Shenzhou-11 crew back on Earth. Credit: CCTV-Plus

Shenzhou-11 crew back on Earth.
Credit: CCTV-Plus

The crew of Shenzhou-11, following a 33-day space trek, returned safely to Earth on November 18th.

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong landed safely in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on Friday.

Recovery teams

As viewed on CCTV, recovery of the crew took longer than expected due to spacecraft touchdown in a different spot than where ground teams were pre-positioned. Recovery personnel found the capsule in a sideways position.

The returning space travelers opened the capsule’s hatch by themselves after the reentry module landed. According to the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, the return capsule was found by the ground search team in the main landing area.

Image snagged by the Banxing-2 microsatellite that was deployed from the Tiangong-2 shows Shenzhou-11 (above) and Tiangong-2 docked in orbit on October 23, 2016. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences via GBTimes

Image snagged by the Banxing-2 microsatellite that was deployed from the Tiangong-2 shows Shenzhou-11 (above) and Tiangong-2 docked in orbit on October 23, 2016.
Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences via GBTimes

Longest mission to date

Shenzhou-11 was China’s sixth manned spacecraft, and also the country’s longest mission to date. After the Shenzhou-11 liftoff on October 17, the spacecraft docked two days later with China’s Tiangong-2 space lab. The two astronauts lived and worked in the lab for 30 days.

Chinese space officials hailed the mission as a key step toward China’s aim of building a permanently crewed space station in the 2020s.

Space station work ahead

As reported by CCTV-Plus, the core module of China’s space station is expected to be launched around 2018, and the space station will start full service around 2022, with an initial designed service lifespan of at least 10 years.

That larger orbiting complex will accommodate three to six astronauts for space flights up to one year.

China's 60-ton medium-size space station is depicted in this artwork. Credit: CNSA

China’s 60-ton medium-size space station is depicted in this artwork.
Credit: CNSA

The Tiangong-2 space lab remains operating in orbit following Shenzhou-11’s departure. China’s first cargo spacecraft — Tianzhou-1– is scheduled to be launched in April 2017, docking with the space lab in an effort to certify in-space refueling technology.

Declared success

Following the Shenzhou-11 landing, Zhang Youxia, commander-in-chief of China’s manned space program declared: “According to a report from the main landing site headquarters, the return module of spacecraft Shenzhou-11 has landed safely. The two astronauts are in good physical conditions. Now I announce that the manned mission of Tiangong-2 and Shenzhou-11 is a complete success.”

That announcement was followed by Zhang Gaoli, Chinese Vice Premier, stating:

“The complete success of Tiangong-2 and Shenzhou-11 mission marks a fresh major progress in China’s manned space program, the latest achievement in building an innovative country and a strong power in science and technology and the latest achievement of the Chinese people in scaling the height of the world.”

Inside Tiangong-2 as crew members carry out experiments. Credit: CCTV

Inside Tiangong-2 as crew members carry out experiments.
Credit: CCTV

Onboard experiments

During the orbital linkup between Shenzhou-11 and the Tiangong-2, mission highlights included testing the transportation of personnel and materials between Earth and Tiangong-2 as well as the meeting, docking and return processes; aerospace medical experiments, space science investigations and in-orbit maintenance.

The two astronauts also carried out a trio of experiments that included raising silkworms in space, designed by middle school students from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

It was the third space mission for the 50-year-old astronaut veteran Jing Haipeng, commander of the crew, who also flew earlier in the Shenzhou-7 and Shenzhou-9 missions.

Shenzhou-11 crew arrived in Beijing on Friday night (local time) at the Xijiao Military airport. Credit: CCTV-Plus

Shenzhou-11 crew arrived in Beijing on Friday night (local time) at the Xijiao Military airport.
Credit: CCTV-Plus

For the 38-year old Chen Dong, it was his first space mission.

Jing and Chen arrived in Beijing on Friday night at the Xijiao Military airport. They got off the plane sitting in soft chairs, still adapting to Earth’s gravity after spending more than 30 days in microgravity.

With the help of medical staff and other assistants, the astronauts left the airport for the Beijing Aerospace City, reports CCTV-Plus.

Video highlights

Take a look at these videos showing various stages of the Shenzhou-11 departure from space and subsequent landing:

http://cd-pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/1118/8036826_Preview_7559.mp4

http://pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/1118/8036840_Preview_7351.mp4

http://l3-pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/1118/8036855_Preview_1479473421425.mp4

http://l3-pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/1118/8036860_Preview_1479481281961.mp4

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