Three taikonauts landed back on earth on Sunday on board the re-entry capsule of the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft, after six months working to complete construction of the Tiangong station, a symbol of the nation’s ambitious space programme.
The trio – commander Chen Dong and teammates Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe – who had been overseeing the final, pivotal period of construction at the space station, which was completed in November, all said they were feeling well after landing.
The capsule landed at the Dongfeng site in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous region at 8.09 pm, with staff from the space agency declaring the entire mission, which began on June 5, a "complete success".
Staff at the landing site carried out the exhausted-looking crew one by one and by just after 9 pm all three had safely exited the capsule.
The taikonauts were all smiles, and appeared to be in good condition, waving happily at workers at the landing site.
“I am very fortunate to have witnessed the completion of the basic structure of the Chinese space station after six busy and fulfilling months in space," said Chen, who was the first to exit the capsule.
“Like meteors, we returned to the embrace of the motherland." Liu, another of the astronauts, said that she was moved to see relatives and her fellow compatriots.
During their mission, the three taikonauts performed three spacewalks, beamed down a live science lecture from the station, and conducted a range of experiments.
Prior to departure, they overlapped for almost five days with three colleagues who arrived on Wednesday on the Shenzhou-15 mission for their own six-month stay, marking the first time China had six astronauts in space at the same time.
The space station represents a significant milestone in China's three-decades long manned space programme, first approved in 1992.
It also flags the start of permanent Chinese habitation in space.
Construction of the station began in April last year with the launch of the first and largest of its three modules, Tianhe, being the living quarters of visiting astronauts. (Agencies)