BEIJING (AP) – A trio of Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Friday after a 90-day stay aboard their country’s first space station on China’s longest mission to date.
Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo landed on the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft shortly after 1:30 pm (0530 GMT) after undocking from the space station on Thursday morning.
State broadcaster CCTV showed images of the spacecraft parachuting to land in the Gobi desert, where it was met by helicopters and all-terrain vehicles. Minutes later, a team of technicians began to open the hatch of the capsule, which appeared unharmed.
After the launch on June 17, mission commander Nie and astronauts Liu and Tang conducted two spacewalks, deployed a 33-foot (10-meter) mechanical arm, and had a video call with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
While the Chinese military, which runs the space program, has released few details, the trios of astronauts are expected to be brought on 90-day missions to the station over the next two years to make it fully functional.
The government has not announced the names of the next group of astronauts or the launch date of Shenzhou-13.
China has sent 14 astronauts into space since 2003, when it became the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to do so on its own.
China embarked on its own space station program after being barred from the International Space Station, largely due to US objections to the secrecy of the Chinese space program and military backing.