Shenzhou-11 astronauts depart space lab and begin journey home

World Today

Shenzhou-11 astronautsPhoto provided by Astronaut Center of China shows Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (R) and Chen Dong accept their first earth-space interview in Tiangong-2, Nov. 15, 2016.

The spacecraft Shenzhou-11, which is carrying astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, separated from the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab at 12:41 p.m. Thursday Beijing Time.

The separation marks the beginning of the journey home for the two men, who have lived and worked in Tiangong-2 for 30 days, the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts.

Prior to the detachment, the two astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, thoroughly checked the condition of the Shenzhou-11 re-entry capsule, which will return them to Earth. They then transferred experimental devices and items from Tiangong-2 to the re-entry capsule before departure.

Shenzhou-11 ground team

Ground staff looking forward to safe landing of Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft after two months of exhaustive preparation.

The astronauts also extended their thanks and respect to their ground team and everyone who has supported China’s space program.

After the separation, Shenzhou-11 will remain near the space lab before they are given leave by the ground team to embark on their return journey.

A view of Shenzhou-11

A view of Shenzhou-11 from its accompanying visual satellite, the Banxing-2.

Learn more about Shenzhou-11 imaging ‘selfie-stick’

About a day later, the reentry module will descend from orbit about 393 kilometers above Earth, a true test for Shenzhou-11’s reentry system.

The Shenzhou-11 mission has been one of major pride for the Chinese space program. On November 9, President Xi Jinping spoke to Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong aboard the space lab.

The astronauts have carried out unique scientific experiments, including everything from fuel and data transfer – to the effects of zero gravity on silk worm coccoons and growing lettuce.

Tiangong-2 will remain in its orbit and remote experiments will continue until it docks with Tianzhou-1, China’s first cargo spacecraft, which is set to be launched in April 2017.

WATCH: Experiments aboard the Tiangong-2

Tiangong-2 astronauts carry out scientific experiments

Two Chinese astronauts - Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong - have begun to carry out series of scientific experiments in Tiangong-2 space lab after entering the orbital module from Shenzhou-11 manned spaceship on Wednesday morning.

The primary landing site for Shenzhou-11 in Inner Mongolia has been prepared to welcome the two astronauts back home, an official announced Thursday.

According to Li Junzhi, an official from the site, drones will be used for the first time in spacecraft recovery and are expected to expand the search area and improve efficiency.

Supplies such as clothes and blankets have been prepared to keep the astronauts warm, considering their long stay in space and that it will be China’s first manned spacecraft landing in winter, said Li.