taikonaute

Shenzhou-11 departs space station, prepares for reentry.

After more than 30 days at the miniature space lab, Shenzhou-11 undocked from Tiangong-2 at 11:21pm EST. Chen Dong and Jing Haipeng are scheduled to reenter and land in China around 12:33am EST Friday, November 18.

Over the course of their month-long stay, the two taikonauts performed experiments on the human body, agriculture - including the growing and cultivation of lettuce - and the deployment of a ‘companion satellite’, Banxing-2. 

Tiangong-2 will not be visited by another human mission, but April 2017 will see the first flight of the automated Tianzhou-1 resupply freighter dock to the station. This will test out the spacecraft’s systems ahead of entering operational service to the future Chinese Space Station.

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The two-man crew of Shenzhou-11 consists of three-time astronaut Jing Haipeng, who flew on the Shenzhou-7 and 9 missions, and rookie Chen Dong. Haipeng will turn 50 while in orbit, while Dong is 37. 

Haipeng summed up the mission of the Tiangong program in a beautiful statement prior to launch: “For China, a space station is a beautiful home up in outer space and that is also the dream for all of the astronauts.”

The veteran Taikonaut asked his rookie crewmate how the launch felt once they arrived in orbit. Dong’s response, seen above, added a touch of humanity into a program widely considered secretive by the rest of the world.