• In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, ground crew check on the re-entry capsule of Shenzhou 11 spacecraft after it landed in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. A pair of Chinese astronauts returned Friday from a monthlong stay aboard the country's space station, China's sixth and longest crewed mission and a sign of the growing ambitions of its rapidly advancing space program. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP)

    In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, ground crew check on the re-entry capsule of Shenzhou 11 spacecraft after it landed in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. A pair of Chinese astronauts returned Friday ... from a monthlong stay aboard the country's space station, China's sixth and longest crewed mission and a sign of the growing ambitions of its rapidly advancing space program. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP) (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, ground crew check on the re-entry capsule of Shenzhou 11 spacecraft after it landed in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. A pair of Chinese astronauts returned Friday from a monthlong stay aboard the country's space station, China's sixth and longest crewed mission and a sign of the growing ambitions of its rapidly advancing space program. (Ren Junchuan/Xinhua via AP)

    In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, ground crew check on the re-entry capsule of Shenzhou 11 spacecraft after it landed in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. A pair of Chinese astronauts returned Friday ... from a monthlong stay aboard the country's space station, China's sixth and longest crewed mission and a sign of the growing ambitions of its rapidly advancing space program. (Ren Junchuan/Xinhua via AP) (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, ground crew check on the re-entry capsule of Shenzhou 11 spacecraft after it landed in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. A pair of Chinese astronauts returned Friday from a monthlong stay aboard the country's space station, China's sixth and longest crewed mission and a sign of the growing ambitions of its rapidly advancing space program. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP)

    In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, ground crew check on the re-entry capsule of Shenzhou 11 spacecraft after it landed in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. A pair of Chinese astronauts returned Friday ... from a monthlong stay aboard the country's space station, China's sixth and longest crewed mission and a sign of the growing ambitions of its rapidly advancing space program. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP) (The Associated Press)

China astronauts return from month-long space station stay

Features Associated Press

A pair of Chinese astronauts have returned from a month-long stay in the country's space station, China's sixth and longest crewed mission to date.

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Veteran mission commander Jing Haipeng and first-time space traveler Chen Dong landed in their Shenzhou 11 return vehicle on the frozen steppes of Inner Mongolia on Friday afternoon.

They had spent 30 days aboard the Tiangong 2 station conducting experiments and testing equipment in preparation for the launching of the station's core module in 2018. A fully functioning, permanently crewed space station is on course to begin operation six years from now and slated to run for a decade.

The Tiangong 2 that launched on Sept. 15 is orbiting 393 kilometers (244 miles) above the earth.