Shenzhou-11 astronauts return after China's longest-ever space mission

Story highlights

  • China's Shenzhou-11 spacecraft returns to earth
  • Two astronauts spent 30 days in orbit, the longest-ever Chinese space mission

Hong Kong (CNN)Two Chinese astronauts have successfully returned to Earth after 30 days in space.

Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong have lived and worked in the Tiangong-2 space lab since October 18, the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts.
    The reentry module of the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft landed in Inner Mongolia around 2.15 p.m. Friday local time (01.15 a.m ET), after detaching from the space lab and heading for home Thursday.
    China launches Tiangong-2 space lab
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    Galactic plans

    The Tiangong-2, whose name translates as "heavenly vessel," was launched on September 15 and had unmanned until the astronauts arrived the following month.
    The lab is a key part of China's space program, on which the country has spent billions of dollars, with the eventual aim of launching a Chinese space station into orbit.
    China is planning to launch the permanent 20-ton space station before 2024, when the International Space Station (ISS) is retired, according to state news agency Xinhua.
    "Tiangong is a precursor testbed of capabilities. Building toward the large space station has always been the culminating goal of the Shenzhou program," said Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the Naval War College specializing in space programs and space security.
    Plans are also underway to send a robotic probe to Mars, and for a potential manned mission to the moon, which would make China only the second country to visit the lunar surface.