Two Chinese astronauts returned Friday from a month-long stay aboard the country’s space station, China’s sixth and longest crewed mission and a sign of the growing ambitions of its rapidly advancing space program.
Veteran mission commander Jing Haipeng and first-time space traveller Chen Dong were reported in good health after their Shenzhou 11 return vehicle landed on the frozen steppes of Inner Mongolia.
Since first launching a human into space 13 years ago, China has launched two space stations, staged a spacewalk, landed a rover on the moon and is now considering sending a crewed lunar mission.
The Tiangong, or “Heavenly Palace,” space stations are considered stepping stones to a mission to send a rover to Mars by the end of the decade. Communications with the disused experimental Tiangong 1 station have been cut and it is expected to burn up when entering the atmosphere next year.