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China’s Shenzhou 16 astronauts hand over Tiangong space station to new crew (video)

China’s space station has new occupants in charge.

The departing Shenzhou 16 astronauts handed over control of the Tiangong space station to the newly arrived Shenzhou 17 crew during a short ceremony on Sunday (Oct. 29).

“On behalf of the Shenzhou 16 crew, I formally and solemnly hand over [the key] to the commander of the Shenzhou 17 mission,” said Jing Haipeng, commander of the Shenzhou 16 mission.

“I firmly believe, and all of us also believe, that under your leadership, your crew will cooperate closely, operate carefully, and complete the follow-up tasks successfully.”

Related: China’s Shenzhou 17 astronauts arrive at Tiangong space station (video)

China’s Shenzhou 16 astronauts hand control of the Tiangong space station over to the Shenzhou 17 crew on Oct. 29, 2023. (Image credit: CCTV)

Commander Tang Hongbo received the key to the hatch door of Tiangong on what was the third handover of the space station. The first saw the Shenzhou 14 crew pass on the baton to the Shenzhou 15 astronauts in late November last year, marking a significant moment for China’s space station project that started in 1992.

The Shenzhou 17 crew launched on a Long March 2F rocket on Oct. 26. Tang, 48, is a veteran of Shenzhou 12. His crewmates are former fighter pilots Tang Shengjie, 34, and Jiang Xinlin, 35. Together they form China’s youngest crew to date.

The trio will spend the next six months in orbit aboard Tiangong conducting experiments, spacewalks, maintenance, repair and outreach activities.

The Shenzhou 16 astronauts — Jing and crewmates Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao — returned safely to Earth early on Oct. 31 (GMT). Their return capsule set down at the Dongfeng Landing Site, located in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in northern China.

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