Astronaut Zhai Zhigang is shown exiting from the return capsule of the Shenzhou 13 spaceship at the Dongfeng landing site in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Photo by Cai Yang/Xinhua/EPA-EFE
April 16 (UPI) -- Three astronauts in China's Shenzhou 13 capsule landed safely Saturday morning after a record six months in orbit.
The crew of three landed in the Dongfeng landing site in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region after departing from the Tianhe core module of the Tiangong space station.
All the astronauts, including Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu, radioed into China National Space Administration's mission control center in Beijing that they were feeling fine shortly after landing, prompting applause.
The astronauts, or taikonauts, as Chinese astronauts are called, had launched into space on the Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert on Oct. 15.
They spent most of their time in orbit aboard the Tianhe.
From Tianhe, the astronauts performed two spacewalks, conducted more than 20 different science experiments, and delivered two live educational lectures.
"A real-time, interactive event with China's taikonauts highlights the reality of the country's technological achievement and displays the competencies and utility of its space program," Molly Silk, doctoral researcher of Chinese space policy at the University of Manchester in England, told Space.com recently. "Such an event serves to enhance national pride and to encourage young citizens to pursue science-based careers."
The taikonauts also spent time getting ready for the next crewed mission, the Shenzhou 14, which is expected to launch in early June.
Their time in orbit nearly doubled the prior record of three Chinese astronauts sent to the same space station for 92 days on the Shenzhou 12 mission.
Taikonaut Wang also set a record as the first woman to set foot aboard the Tianhe and the first Chinese woman to conduct a spacewalk.
Six months is the typical duration of a mission to the International Space Station, with missions sometimes spanning much longer than that, but China is not a part of that program.
Last month, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov returned to earth after a record-breaking 355 days in space.
Two robotic cargo spacecraft have also been launched to Tianhe, and another is expected to launch to the core module next month.