China's Shenzhou 14 astronauts return to Earth after helping build Tiangong space station.

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The Shenzhou 14 astronauts from China have left the Tiangong space station and have landed back on the planet.

On Sunday, December 4, at roughly 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT, 8:00 p.m. local time), about nine hours after docking with the nation's newly finished Tiangong space station, the return capsule from the mission's Shenzhou spacecraft successfully landed in the Gobi Desert's Dongfeng landing region.

The mission, which lasted six months, was captained by astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe. During that time, they supervised the delivery of the second and third modules for Tiangong and performed three spacewalks to inspect and test the new facilities.

Soon after landing, the three astronauts radioed that they were feeling great, and the report was met with cheers at the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center (BACC).

The crew participated in the nation's first personnel transfer prior to departure, enabling the Shenzhou 14 and Shenzhou 15 crews to spend five days together aboard thanks to the addition of the new Wentian and Mengtian modules to the Tianhe core module. It was the first time China had six astronauts in space at once thanks to the gathering.

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The six astronauts of China's Shenzhou 14 and Shenzhou 15 missions to the Tiangong space station pose for a crew photo in orbit in November 2022. (Image credit: CMSE)

Soon after landing, the three astronauts radioed that they were feeling great, and the report was met with cheers at the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center (BACC).

The crew participated in the nation's first personnel transfer prior to departure, enabling the Shenzhou 14 and Shenzhou 15 crews to spend five days together aboard thanks to the addition of the new Wentian and Mengtian modules to the Tianhe core module. It was the first time China had six astronauts in space at once thanks to the gathering.

Shenzhou 14 launched on June 5 of this year and arrived at the solitary Tianhe module 6.5 hours later. However, the crew leaves behind the three-module, T-shaped Tiangong space station, which is finished and fully functional.

The mission, which lasted 182 days, was comparable in length to the Shenzhou 13 mission. As the first astronaut from China to spend more than 200 days in orbit, mission commander Chen Dong also established a new record for the nation's overall time spent in space. On the Shenzhou 11 trip in 2016, Chen previously spent 33 days in the Tiangong 2 test space lab, a model for the bigger Tiangong modules.

Following the first launch of the Tianhe core module in April 2021, Shenzhou 14 was the third crewed mission to Tiangong. Shenzhou 12, the first crewed mission to Tianhe, departed in June 2021 and touched down 92 days later.

The recently launched Shenzhou 15 mission, which will be fueled by the Tianzhou 5 ship, will likewise last for around six months. The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center already has the spacecraft for the next flight. According to China's official space news site, Shenzhou 16 has been constructed, tested, and is ready to launch to Tiangong in case of an emergency.

Shenzhou 15 and Tianzhou 5 are presently docked to the finished Tiangong station, which is nearly 20% larger than the International Space Station (ISS).

In the next years, there may be commercial missions, foreign astronauts, and even tourist trips to the orbiting outpost, which the government intends to maintain continuously inhabited and operating for at least ten years.

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