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Friday, November 18, 2016, 21:19

Astronauts to return home after 33 days

By Zhao Lei
Astronauts to return home after 33 days
Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (left) and Chen Dong waves to audience in the Tiangong-2 space lab on Oct 19, 2016. (Xinhua)

The two Chinese astronauts on the Shenzhou XI space mission have completed their monthlong stay in the Tiangong II space laboratory and will soon return to Earth.

Mission commander Jing Haipeng, 50, and Chen Dong, 37, floated out of the space lab 393 km above Earth and returned to the Shenzhou XI's re-entry capsule on Thursday morning. The Shenzhou XI spacecraft then departed Tiangong II at 12:41 pm, the China Manned Space Agency said in a statement, adding that the astronauts will arrive back in China on Friday.

Their 33-day journey is the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts, compared with the 15-day Shenzhou X mission in June 2013

Jing and Chen embarked on the space trip aboard the Shenzhou XI spacecraft, which departed from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China on Oct 17. They entered Tiangong II, which was launched in mid-September from the same center, on Oct 19.

Their 33-day journey is the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts . Previously, the longest space trip involving Chinese astronauts was the 15-day Shenzhou X mission in June 2013.

Astronauts to return to Earth after 33-day trip

Before leaving Tiangong II, the duo expressed their gratitude and respect for Chinese space workers and those who support the nation's space exploration efforts .

Tiangong II will remain in orbit and continue to be used for scientific experiments. It will receive the Tianzhou 1 cargo spacecraft in April next year, according to the China Manned Space Agency.

Astronauts to return home after 33 days

China Central Television reported on Thursday that groundworkers at the landing site in Siziwang Banner in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region have carried out several drills and are ready to welcome the astronauts.

The Shenzhou XI-Tiangong II mission is China's sixth manned spaceflight and is expected to pave way for a permanent space station, which the country plans to start building in 2018 and put into service in about 2022.

Jing is an experienced astronaut, having been a member of the Shenzhou VII mission in 2008 and the Shenzhou IX mission in 2012. He celebrated his 50th birthday during his stay in Tiangong II.

Chen is the first man in the second generation of Chinese astronauts to make a spaceflight. Two of his female counterparts in the group, Liu Yang and Wang Yaping, have traveled to space, becoming national heroines.

During the astronauts' stay in the space lab, they worked for eight hours a day, six days a week, completing more than 40 experiments , according to Huang Weifen, deputy research head of the Astronaut Center of China.

As part of their assignments, the astronauts verified the life-support capability of the spacecraft-space lab combination and planted seeds to study the growth of vegetables in space.

They used a treadmill and exercise bike in Tiangong II to maintain their physical health, and even conducted a video call with President Xi Jinping on Nov 9.

China launched its first space lab, Tiangong I, in September 2011. With a designated life span of two years, the Tiangong I was in service for four and a half years, and conducted six automatic and astronaut-controlled dockings with the Shenzhou VIII, Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X spacecraft before retiring in March this year.

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