Final Preparations Underway As Chinese Astronauts Prepare For Return To Earth… Photos

A pair of Chinese astronauts returned Friday from a monthlong stay aboard the country’s space station, China’s sixth and longest crewed mission and a sign of the growing ambitions of its rapidly advancing space program.
Veteran mission commander Jing Haipeng and first-time space traveler Chen Dong were reported in good health after their Shenzhou 11 return vehicle landed on the frozen steppes of Inner Mongolia. They spent 30 days aboard the Tiangong 2 station conducting experiments and testing equipment in preparation for the launching of the station’s core module in 2018. A fully functioning, permanently crewed space station is on course to begin operations six years from now and is slated to run for at least a decade. The success of the mission “indicates that our manned space program has achieved major new progress and is the latest achievement in building a country of innovation and a world power of science and technology,” the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee, the Cabinet and the party commission controlling the military said in a congratulatory message. “It is the newest achievement of Chinese people in climbing the peak of the world,” said the letter, read out by Vice Premier Zhao Gaoli at the space flight control center in Beijing.

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