The three-man Shenzhou-17 crew is back on Earth after 188 days on the Tiangong-3 space station. Their replacements on Shenzhou-18 arrived last week initiating another crew exchange. The three-module space station has been permanently occupied with crews rotating on roughly 6-month schedules since 2022.

Taikonauts Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie and Jiang Xinlin landed at the Dongfeng Landing Site in Inner Mongolia at about 5:46 am EDT (09:46 UTC/5:46 pm local time at the landing site).

Shenzhou-17 crew descending under parachute moments before landing at the Dongfeng Landing Site, April 30, 2024. Credit: Xinhua

China’s CGTN television network provided live coverage of the landing. These screengrabs show each crew member after being helped out of the Shenzhou-17 capsule.

Tiangong-3 is much smaller that the U.S.-Russian-European-Japanese-Canadian International Space Station and has only been permanently occupied since 2022, but its purpose is much the same — conducting scientific research and learning about human adaptation to spaceflight in preparation for trips to the Moon and beyond.

Also called the China Space Station or CSS, Tiangong-3 is about 66 Metric Tons compared to 420 MT for the ISS. The ISS has been permanently occupied by international crews rotating on 4-6 month schedules for more than 23 years. The first  boarded on November 2, 2000.  Seven astronauts are there now — four Americans and three Russians.

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