The first crewed mission to China’s new home station is throughout the books.
A spacecraft carrying Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo touched down safely throughout the Gobi Desert in Inside Mongolia within the current day (Sept. 17) at 1:34 a.m. EDT (0534 GMT; 1:34 p.m. Beijing time) within the current day, bringing the historic Shenzhou 12 mission to an end.
Shenzhou 12 launched on June 16 and arrived seven hours later at Tianhe (“Harmony of the Heavens”), the core module of China’s Earth-orbiting home station. The Shenzhou 12 crew, commanded by Nie, spent 90 days aboard Tianhe, staying aloft about thrice longer than any earlier Chinese language language crewed spaceflight.
Shenzhou 12’s return to Earth was a multiday affair. The spacecraft detached from Tianhe Wednesday (Sept. 15) at 8:56 p.m. EDT (0056 GMT on Sept. 16), in response to an announcement launched by the China Manned Home Engineering Office (CMSEO). Shenzhou 12 then carried out a rendezvous test with Tianhe, which was full by 1:38 a.m. EDT (0538 GMT) Thursday (Sept. 16), CMSEO officers acknowledged in a single different substitute.
Related: The most recent details about China’s home program
All through their time in orbit, the Shenzhou 12 astronauts snapped some very good photographs of Earth and carried out a variety of scientific experiments. Moreover they carried out two spacewalks designed to help get the 54-foot-long (16.6 meters) Tianhe completely up and dealing and ready for future visits, which can doubtless be frequent over the approaching months.
As an example, China is predicted to ship the robotic Tianzhou 3 cargo spacecraft in direction of Tianhe spherical Sept. 20. And the following crewed mission to the module, the six-month-long Shenzhou 13, is outwardly scheduled to launch in mid-October. (Precise purpose dates are laborious to return by with Chinese language language missions, on account of the nation tends to not announce many particulars of its spaceflight plans prematurely.)
China moreover plans to launch two additional modules to orbit, which may hyperlink up with Tianhe to kind a three-piece home station often known as Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”) that’s about 20% as large as a result of the Worldwide Home Station (ISS). Assembly of this orbital outpost is predicted to be achieved subsequent 12 months.
“Tiangong” should sound acquainted to deal with followers, on account of China launched two pathfinder home labs with that title throughout the ultimate decade. Tiangong 1 reached Earth orbit in September 2011 and hosted two crewed missions, Shenzhou 9 in June 2012 and Shenzhou 10 in June 2013. Tiangong 2 went up in September 2016 and welcomed the Shenzhou 11 astronauts aboard for a 30-day mission the following month.
Every of those Tiangongs are prolonged gone. Tiangong 1 made an uncontrolled reentry to Earth’s setting in April 2018, burning up over the Pacific Ocean. Tiangong 2 was steered to a deliberate demise, moreover over the Pacific, in July 2019.
Shenzhou 12’s landing comes merely sooner or later sooner than one different extraordinarily anticipated return — that of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission, the first-ever all-civilian journey to Earth orbit. Inspiration4 launched on Wednesday night (Sept. 15), sending 4 people on a three-day journey spherical our planet. It’s scheduled to splash down on Saturday (Sept. 18).
Shenzhou 12, Inspiration4 and the Worldwide Home Station have been all aloft on the similar time for just some days this week, setting a model new report for essentially the most people in home concurrently (14). The ISS, in spite of everything, is an orbital fixture, having hosted rotating astronaut crews continuously since November 2000.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a e guide regarding the look for alien life. Observe him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Observe us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Fb.