Chinese military plans regular 90-day rotations in space station as nation seeks to compete with Russia, U.S.

 A trio of Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Friday after a 90-day stay aboard their nation’s first space station in China’s longest mission yet. Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo landed in the Shenzhou-12 spaceship just after 1:30 p.m. (0530 GMT) after having undocked from the space station Thursday morning.

State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of the spacecraft parachuting to land in the Gobi Desert where it was met by helicopters and off-road vehicles. Minutes later, a crew of technicians began opening the hatch of the capsule, which appeared undamaged.

The three astronauts emerged about 30 minutes later and were seated in reclining chairs just outside the capsule to allow them time to readjust to Earth’s gravity after three months of living in a weightless environment. The three were due to fly to Beijing on Friday.

While few details have been made public by China’s military, which runs the space program, astronaut trios are expected to be brought on 90-day missions to the station over the next two years to make it fully functional.

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