Shenzhou 13 crew lands from 6-month stay on China's space station
April 15, 2022
— Three Chinese astronauts have returned to Earth after a record-long stay on their country's first space station.
Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu landed aboard their Shenzhou 13 spacecraft on Friday (April 15), completing the second crewed expedition to China's Tiangong space station. They touched down at about 9:57 p.m. EDT (0157 GMT or 9:57 a.m. Beijing Time on April 16) within the Dongfeng landing zone in the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia.
The crew's return marked the end of China's longest human space mission to date, lasting 182 days. The prior record for a Chinese crewed flight was a little more than half as long at 92 days as set by the Shenzhou 12 crew in 2021.
Wang, China's second woman to fly into space, now holds the record for the longest time off of the planet by a Chinese citizen at 197 days over the course of two missions. Compared to the rest of the world, 112 cosmonauts and astronauts from Russia, the U.S., France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada and Belgium have logged longer times in space.
Wang, Zhai and Ye launched together on Shenzhou 13 on Oct. 15, 2021, and arrived at Tianhe ("Harmony of the Heavens"), the core module of the Tiangong space station, the next day. Once aboard, the three set about configuring the module for the next six months of operations.
During their time in orbit, the Shenzhou 13 crew performed two spacewalks to deploy equipment and demonstrate spacewalking techniques, as well as continue testing China's upgraded Feitian extravehicular activity (EVA) spacesuits.
The mission's first spacewalk on Nov. 7, saw Zhai install a grapple fixture and adapter on the station's robotic arm and Wang test riding at the end of the manipulator. The six hour, 25 minute outing marked the first time that a Chinese woman had walked in space.
The second EVA was performed on Dec. 26, with Ye and Zhai deploying a camera platform and confirming autonomous object transfers using the station's robotic arm. With three spacewalks to his credit, including China's first-ever EVA during the Shenzhou 7 mission in 2008, Zhai set records for the most spacewalks (3) and most time spacewalking (12 hours and 58 minutes) by a Chinese astronaut.
The three Shenzhou 13 crew members also conducted two lectures to help educate and inspire Chinese students. Addressing a main "classroom" set up at the China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing and at several branch locations around China, the crew demonstrated science experiments appropriate for different grade levels before answering questions from the students. The two educational events were held on Dec. 9 and on March 23.
Zhai, Wang and Ye also interacted with U.S. students who were gathered at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. on April 10. The event included taped remarks by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk calling for international cooperation in space and was attended by former NASA astronauts Don Thomas and Barbara Morgan.
Other video downlinks included the Shenzhou 13 crew celebrating the Chinese New Year, Spring Festival and Beijing Winter Olympics.
In January, the crew monitored a transposition test using the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft, which had been docked to the Tianhe core module since before they arrived. The test used the station's robotic arm to move the uncrewed freighter as a demonstration for the future expansion of the Tinagong outpost. China plans to launch two more modules before the end of the year and will use the robotic arm for their installation.
On March 27, Zhai, Wang and Ye oversaw the undocking of the Tianzhou-2 craft, which fell back to Earth and was destroyed. The departure left only the Tianzhou-3 cargo vehicle docked to the Tianhe core module.
The Shenzhou 13 crew undocked their spacecraft and departed for home at 12:44 p.m. EDT on Friday (1644 GMT or 12:44 a.m. Beijing Time on April 16).
The Tiangong space station will remain unoccupied until June, when China is expected to launch the still-to-be-named Shenzhou 14 crew for another six-month expedition.
China's Shenzhou 13 spacecraft lands in Inner Mongolia with Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu after 182 days on China's Tiangong space station, on Friday, April 15, 2022. (Xinhua)
Wang Yaping, Zhai Zhigang and Ye Guangfu are seen strapped on board China's Shenzhou 13 spacecraft as they return to Earth from the Tiangong space station on Friday, April 15, 2022. (CCTV)
China's Shenzhou 13 spacecraft departs from the Tiangong space station on Friday, April 15, 2022. (China Manned Space)
China's Shenzhou 13 crew, Wang Yaping, Zhai Zhigang and Ye Guangfu, give their thumbs up as they prepare to return to Earth from the Tiangong space station inside the Tianhe core module in April 2022. (CMSE)
China's Shenzhou 13 crew, Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping, are seen after landing on China's Shenzhou 13 on April 15, 2022. (Xinhua)