Chinese Astronauts Return to Earth After 12-Day Mission

Taikonaut Liu Yang

China's first female astronaut, 33-year-old Liu Yang (C), gets carried by two retrieval crew members after she emerged from the charred returned capsule of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, which means "divine vessel" in Chinese, in a remote area of northern China on June 29, 2012, after a 13-day mission to an orbiting module that is a prototype for a future space station. Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth after achieving China's most complex and longest operations in orbit, major steps forward in the country's effort to build a space station by 2020. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/GettyImages)AFP/Getty Images

Chinese astronauts have returned to Earth in a re-entry broadcast live on Chinese television, landing safely in Inner Mongolia. We saw the historic launch and docking earlier this month, and now, after more than a week of running tests aboard the solar-powered Tiangong 1 space module, the crew of three is back. Needless to say, this is another big leap for the country.

The Shenzhou 9 flight was China's fourth manned spaceflight, and the crew of taikonauts--as astronauts are known in the country--includes the first Chinese woman to make the journey into space. The module won't be retired just yet; it could stick around for another two years, officials say, set to accommodate more missions.