China’s Shenzhou-14 spacecraft has returned home after six months in space carrying three astronauts. These three astronauts landed safely on earth after completing their mission on Sunday.

The country’s state media said they arrived safely at the Dongfeng landing site in the northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Minutes after the capsule landed, the grounded crew ejected three astronauts, Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Juze, one by one, from the capsule in a nationally televised operation.

The three astronauts, who were in good health, spoke briefly to state television reporters before being taken to headquarters for a health check-up.

The three astronauts lived and worked in the space station complex for 183 days. They were replaced by the Shenzhou-15 spacecraft on November 29, and three more astronauts were sent to the space station under construction.

The three Shenzhou-14 astronauts were sent to the space station on June 5, state news agency Xinhua reported. They have completed a series of tasks over the past few months, including supervising five rendezvous-and-dockings, performing three extraterrestrial activities, delivering a live science lecture and conducting several science-technology-based experiments.

China plans to complete the space station by the end of this year amid intense competition with the United States.

The Shenzhou-15 spacecraft carried three astronauts, Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu. During their six-month mission, the Shenzhou-15 crew will conduct long-term habitability tests on China’s space station in its three-module configuration, said Jie Qiming, assistant director of CMSA.

According to state media, this will be the last flight mission to be launched by the Long March-2F carrier rocket during the construction phase of China’s space station. Once the station is ready, China will be the only country to own a space station.

Russia’s International Space Station (ISS) is a collaborative project of several countries. The China Space Station (CSS) is also expected to be a competitor to the Russian-built ISS.

Observers say the CSS could become the only space station that will remain in orbit after the ISS retires in the coming years.

(Dhaka Times / 04 December / SAT)