China's Shenzhou 14 astronauts begin recovery on Earth after 6-month mission (video)

Three astronauts who helped finish the construction of China's space station are back in Beijing to start the recovery process after spending half a year in orbit.

Astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe landed in their Shenzhou spacecraft return capsule at Dongfeng in the Gobi Desert in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on Sunday (Dec. 4), just hours after leaving the Tiangong space station

Chen, Liu and Cai were in fine spirits upon emergence from the capsule, and they were soon whisked away to Xijiao Airport via airliner. 

Related: China's Shenzhou 14 astronauts snap stunning photos of Earth, the moon and more

A Shenzhou 14 astronaut waves after landing in Beijing following the successful completion of the Shenzhou 14 mission. The three-person Shenzhou 14 spent six months at China's Tiangong space station and ended with a touchdown on Dec. 4, 2022.

A Shenzhou 14 astronaut waves after landing in Beijing following the successful completion of the Shenzhou 14 mission. The three-person Shenzhou 14 spent six months at China's Tiangong space station and ended with a touchdown on Dec. 4, 2022. (Image credit: CCTV)

The astronauts were greeted there by family members for a brief reunion. But they have now entered a post-mission recuperation phase to recover from the effects of six months in microgravity, such as a loss of bone density. The astronauts were carried down from the plane in specially designed chairs for this reason.

The trio are now in a quarantine recovery period at the China Astronaut Research and Training Center, which is expected to last three to four weeks. During this time, they will undergo a comprehensive medical examination and health assessment. So far the signs are good as the astronauts re-adapt to the exertions of gravity on Earth.

"The crew stayed in space for 183 days this time, and they are all in good shape both mentally and physically. Their return and landing were smooth too," Xu Chong, director of the China Astronaut Research and Training Center, told CCTV (opens in new tab).

The previous crew, Shenzhou 13, landed in mid-April this year and made their first (opens in new tab) public appearance in late June after recovering from their six months in orbit.

During their mission aboard Tiangong, Chen, Liu and Cai oversaw the arrival of two new space station modules as well as three further rendezvous and docking maneuvers involving Tianzhou freighters and Shenzhou craft and embarked on three spacewalks. They also hosted a live and interactive science outreach lecture and sent home stunning images of the Earth and moon.

The last act of the Shenzhou 14 mission before departing for Earth was handing over Tiangong to the crew of the Shenzhou 15 mission. This marked China's first crew handover and the first time the country has had six astronauts in space simultaneously.

Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and on Facebook (opens in new tab)

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI (opens in new tab).