While the Inspiration4 crew achieved a major milestone for civilian spaceflight, China’s space crew also made history, and this is just the beginning.
After setting the record for the most time spent in space, three Taikonauts are now preparing for their departure from China’s space station and return to Earth.
The crew boarded the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft then undocked from the space station Thursday morning, and will parachute land in the Gobi Desert near the Juiquan launch center on Friday. The trip should last nearly 30 hours.
The Taikonauts accomplished two spacewalks, deployment of a 33-foot mechanical arm, and video call with a Communist Party leader.
China Central Television reported that “Before the undocking, the astronauts downloaded data from their experiments and ensured the station would continue operating without a crew.”
In an effort to make the station fully functional, Taikonaut trios are expected to accomplish 90-day space station missions over the next two years.
Since 2003 China has sent 14 taikonauts to space and launched two experimental modules over the past decade: Tiangong-1, which was abandoned then burned up during an uncontrolled loss of orbit, and Tiangong-2, which was successfully brought out of orbit in 2018. This new station will serve as a permanent station.
China is also conducting uncrewed missions, including placing a rover on the dark side of the Moon as well as on Mars and collecting lunar rocks and asteroid soil.
In 2024, China planned for another lunar mission, but that mission will be different from other missions because China doesn’t want to just land on the moon and collect samples, they want to build a scientific base there.
Interestingly, 2024 is the same year the US originally planned to go to the moon, but due to budget constraints, spacesuit design challenges, problems with the SLS rocket, and other technical difficulties we likely won’t get to the moon again until 2025. A year behind China.