Three Chinese Astronauts Return To Earth After Six Months In Space

Officials stand near the capsule of the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft after it returned to earth carrying three Chinese astronauts in China’s Inner Mongolia on April 16, 2022.  STR / AFP

 

Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Saturday after 183 days in space, ending China’s longest crewed mission as it continues its quest to become a major space power.

The Shenzhou-13 spacecraft was the latest mission in Beijing’s drive to rival the United States, after landing a rover on Mars and sending probes to the Moon.

Live footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed the capsule landing in a cloud of dust, with the ground crew who had kept clear of the landing site rushing in helicopters to reach the capsule.

The two men and one woman — Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping — returned to Earth shortly before 10 am Beijing time (0200 GMT), after six months aboard the Tianhe core module of China’s Tiangong space station.

Ground crew applauded as the astronauts each took turns to report that they were in good physical condition.

Zhai was the first to emerge from the capsule roughly 45 minutes after the landing, waving and grinning at cameras as he was lifted by the ground crew into a specially designed chair before being bundled into a blanket.

“I’m proud of our heroic country,” Zhai said in an interview with CCTV shortly after leaving the capsule. “I feel extremely good.”

The trio originally launched in the Shenzhou-13 from China’s northwestern Gobi Desert last October, as the second of four crewed missions during 2021-2022 sent to assemble the country’s first permanent space station — Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace.”

Wang became the first Chinese woman to spacewalk last November, as she and her colleague Zhai installed space station equipment during a six-hour stint.

Mission commander Zhai, 55, is a former fighter pilot who performed China’s first spacewalk in 2008, while Ye is a People’s Liberation Army pilot.

The trio have completed two spacewalks, carried out numerous scientific experiments, set up equipment and tested technologies for future construction during their time in orbit.

The astronauts spent the past few weeks tidying up and preparing the cabin facilities and equipment for the crew of the incoming Shenzhou-14, expected to be launched in the coming months.

China’s previous record spaceflight mission length was set by last year’s Shenzhou-12 deployment, which lasted 92 days.

Six months will become the normal astronaut residence period aboard the Chinese space station, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Space race

The world’s second-largest economy has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a permanently crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

The country has come a long way in catching up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.

But under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the country’s plans for its heavily-promoted “space dream” have been put into overdrive.

Besides a space station, Beijing is also planning to build a base on the Moon, and the country’s National Space Administration said it aims to launch a crewed lunar mission by 2029.

China has been excluded from the International Space Station since 2011 when the US banned NASA from engaging with the country.

While China does not plan to use its space station for global cooperation on the scale of the ISS, Beijing has said it is open to foreign collaboration although the scope of that cooperation is not yet clear.

The ISS is due for retirement after 2024, although NASA has said it could remain functional until 2030.

AFP

Turkey Dismisses France Allegations Of Naval Aggression

Turkish deminers search and clear landmines in the Salah al-Din area, south of the Libyan capital Tripoli, on June 15, 2020. – Human Rights Watch earlier this month accused pro-Haftar forces of laying Russian and Soviet-era landmines as they withdrew from Tripoli’s southern districts. A team of Turkish deminers arrived in Tripoli last week to bring their expertise, under a broader military cooperation agreement signed late last year between Tripoli and Ankara. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

 

Turkey on Thursday dismissed as “groundless” allegations by France that Turkish frigates had been “extremely aggressive” towards a French navy vessel participating in a NATO mission in the Mediterranean.

“It is clear the allegations are groundless and deliberate,” said a senior Turkish military official who did not wish to be named, after the French defence ministry on Wednesday denounced the frigates’ action as “unacceptable by an ally”.

France said its sailors were trying to check a cargo ship on suspicion it was taking arms to Libya — forbidden under a UN embargo.

Turkish frigates carried out radar targeting three times, suggesting a missile strike was imminent, the unnamed French defence ministry official said.

But the Turkish military official said the French vessel conducted a “high-speed and dangerous manoeuvre… that was in violation of safety rules at sea and NATO procedures”.

The Turkish ship only “observed the vessel with the camera integrated into the fire-control radar”, the official said, as a safety measure.

“There was no communication relay from the French ship to our ship during the incident.”

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French Defence Minister Florence Parly brought the matter up during a videoconference with her NATO counterparts on Wednesday, her office said.

Relations between France and Turkey have become strained in recent months over Ankara’s backing of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

Since security and maritime deals were signed late last year, Turkey has stepped up its support of the GNA with drones, military advisors and sending Syrian fighters.

This support has helped turn the tide in the conflict after military strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in April 2019 to capture Tripoli from the GNA.

A French presidential official on Sunday lambasted Turkey’s “aggressive” intervention in the Libya conflict, and accused Ankara of violating a UN arms embargo.

Although France publicly denies the claim, Paris has long been suspected of favouring Haftar, who has the backing of Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

AFP

India To Send Three-Person Crew On Landmark Space Mission

Indian flag

 

India will send a three-member team into space for up to a week when it launches its first manned mission expected in 2022, the government announced Friday. 

Indian ministers approved a budget of $1.4 billion to provide technology and infrastructure for the programme, according to a government statement.

It said the cabinet had approved financing to launch an Indian-developed craft in a “low earth orbit for a mission duration ranging from one orbital period to a maximum of seven days.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in August that India will launch a manned space flight by 2022 with at least one astronaut.

India plans to undertake two unmanned and one manned flight as part of its Gaganyaan (Sky-Vehicle) Programme, the statement said.

The country has invested heavily in its space programme in the past decade, stepping up its rivalry with China.

The Indian Space Research Organisation also announced in July that it planned to send an unmanned mission to the moon in 2019.

India launched an orbiter to Mars in 2013 which is still operational and last year launched a record 104 satellites in one blast-off.

New Delhi is competing with other international players for a greater share of the satellite market and is known for its low-cost space programme.

AFP

Mogherini Urges EU To Take ‘More Responsibility’ On Migrant Mission

Federica Mogherini, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, gives a statement as she arrives for an informal meeting of EU-Defence Ministers in Vienna, Austria, on August 30, 2018. Alex HALADA / AFP

 

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Thursday urged member states to “take more responsibility” and ensure the bloc’s migrant rescue operation continues to fight human trafficking in the Mediterranean.

Rome plans to ask the European Union to modify the rules of the Sophia mission currently commanded by Italy, and rotate the ports where migrants rescued at sea can disembark, with France and Spain expected to top the list.

Currently, all the ships dock in Italy but Rome’s new right-wing, the nationalist government says it should not have to carry the burden on its own and it is time other EU states do their fair share by taking in more of the migrants.

In comments before informal talks by EU defense ministers, Mogherini called on them to show a “constructive attitude” to work to continue the mission.

“So far consensus has not been found… We can definitely not afford to leave an EU operation without clarity on the rules it has to follow,” she said ahead of the meeting in Vienna.

“It would be good if member states take more responsibility,” she added. “The important thing is that we manage to keep the operation going… This has been a remarkable achievement for all of the European Union.”

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Sophia’s mandate was until year end — when she expected EU leaders to solve the question of how asylum seekers coming to Europe whose claims are recognized should be distributed among member states and how those rejected should be returned home.

“That is the question that is anyhow right on top of the agenda of EU leaders… and so I expect this question to be solved in the autumn,” she said.

EU leaders will meet in the Austrian city of Salzburg in September to discuss the migrant crisis. Austria currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

Sophia was launched in June 2015 following a series of deadly shipwrecks and has since picked up thousands of migrants floundering in the Mediterranean.

According to La Stampa newspaper, Italy’s idea is to rotate landings between Mediterranean ports, with a particular emphasis on France and Spain, and with Greece and Malta also sharing the load.

Italian Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta said late Wednesday that the ball was in the EU camp.

“By accepting our proposal it (the EU) will have the opportunity to show it is a real community of values and intentions; by refusing it will deny its own fundamental principles,” she said.

Italy has been turning away ships with migrants rescued at sea in a campaign to make EU countries take their share.

Last week, it threatened to stop billions of euros of EU funding over the issue, accusing Europe of turning its back as Italy grapples with seemingly endless migrant arrivals.

AFP