Welcome home! China’s Shenzhou-13 taikonauts return after six months in orbit

April 24 , 2022

China’s Shenzhou-13 astronauts, or taikonauts, Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu, returned home safely on Saturday morning after a record-breaking 183-day mission in space.

The return capsule carrying the trio touched down at the Dongfeng landing site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at 9:56 a.m. after a journey of about nine hours from the country’s space station.

China declared the Shenzhou-13 mission a complete success after the medical team waiting on site confirmed that all three taikonauts were in good health.

“All procedures went smoothly,” said Sun Jun, mission chief of the Space Station Project at Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center. “The re-entry capsule was in upright position and good for taikonauts to come out.”

“The return mission is perfect,” he said.

Zhai, the commander of the mission, was the first to come out of the capsule, waving to the cheering crowd on site with a big smile. He said he felt very good.

He was followed by Wang, the first female taikonaut to enter China’s space station. “I want to tell my daughter, mom returned after reaching for the stars,” she said.

Ye exited last from the capsule. “My first flight to space lasted six months, which was a challenge to me. My space dream came true,” he said.

A fast trip home

The crew’s trip home lasted just nine hours.

At 12:44 a.m., the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft, consisting of three modules – the return capsule, the orbital module and the propelling module – detached from the Tianhe core module of China’s space station, which orbits the Earth at an altitude of about 400 kilometers.

At 09:06 a.m., the return capsule and the propelling module separated from the orbital module.

At 09:30 a.m., the braking engine of the return capsule started working to slow it down, and it then separated from the propelling module.

About 14 minutes later, the parachute of the return capsule was deployed.

And at 9:56 a.m., the return capsule successfully landed and the recovery team arrived at the landing point.

Highlights of the Shenzhou-13 mission

Launched on October 16, 2021, this was the second manned mission for the assembly of China’s space station, following last year’s Shenzhou-12 mission, which lasted three months from June 17 to September 17.

The Shenzhou-13 mission is the longest-ever crewed mission in the country’s manned space program.

During their stay on board the space station, the crew verified key technologies, including the in-orbit transposition of the spacecraft and robotic arm operation of heavy loads, accumulating valuable experience for the subsequent in-orbit assembly and construction of the space station.

Two spacewalks were carried out by the crew. On November 7, 2021, Wang became the first female taikonaut to do a spacewalk.

Besides scientific missions, the crew also gave two live science lectures from the space station, during which they conducted various experiments and answered questions from students watching on Earth.