TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Tuesday morning after six months aboard China’s orbiting space station.
Jing Haipeng, Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao emerged in good health from the return capsule near the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The station’s new three-person crew arrived to the Tiangong station last week.
The station is essentially complete, so the new crew will conduct medical and scientific experiments and maintain equipment.
China made its first crewed space mission in 2003 and plans to put astronauts on the moon before 2030. It has brought samples back from the lunar surface and landed a rover on the less explored far side of the moon. Future plans include sending a new telescope to probe deep into the universe.
China built its own space station after it was excluded from the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. concerns over Chinese military control over the national space program.
Beijing has emerged as the chief rival with the U.S. for reaching new milestones in outer space, with extremely limited cooperation between them in the field, as mandated by U.S. law. That mirrors the competition for influence between the world’s two largest economies in the technology, trade, military and diplomatic spheres, with China’s claim to sovereignty over the South China Sea and self-governing Taiwan particular points of contention.
The U.S., meanwhile, aims to put astronauts back on the lunar surface by the end of 2025 as part of a renewed commitment to crewed missions, aided by private sector players such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.
In addition to their lunar programs, the two countries have also separately landed rovers on Mars, and China plans to follow the U.S. in landing a spacecraft on an asteroid.