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3 Chinese astronauts return to Earth after 6-month mission

This photo released by Xinhua News Agency shows an image captured off the screen at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China showing the crew of China's Shenzhou-14 manned spaceship observing the Shenzhou-15 spaceship conducting a fast automated rendezvous and docking with the space station's Tianhe module on Nov. 30, 2022. Three Chinese astronauts docked early Wednesday with their country's space station, where they will overlap for several days with the three-member crew already onboard and expand the facility to its maximum size. (Guo Zhongzheng/Xinhua via AP)

BEIJING (AP) — Three Chinese astronauts landed in a northern desert on Sunday after six months working to complete construction of the Tiangong station, a symbol of the country’s ambitious space program, state TV reported.

A capsule carrying commander Chen Dong and astronauts Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe touched down at a landing site in the Gobi Desert in northern China at approximately 8:10 p.m. (1210 GMT), China Central Television reported.

The three astronauts were part of the Shenzhou-14 mission, which launched in June.

The Tiangong is part of official Chinese plans for a permanent human presence in orbit.

China in 2003 became the third government to send an astronaut into orbit on its own after the former Soviet Union and the United States.

The government has landed robot probes on the little-explored far side of the moon and on Mars. In 2020, a probe returned lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.

A crew of three Chinese astronauts blasted off Tuesday for Tiangong’s final construction stage. The station’s third and final module docked with the station this month.

The Associated Press