Three Chinese astronauts undocked their spacecraft from an orbiting robotic module Wednesday (June 27) and began preparing to return to Earth Thursday night.
China's Shenzhou 9 vehicle separated from the unmanned Tiangong 1 space lab Wednesday evening, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency. The mission's three taikonauts, as Chinese astronauts are known, returned to Shenzhou 9 to begin the maneuver at 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT; 6:00 a.m. Thursday Beijing time).
The spaceflyers are expected to land around 10 p.m. EDT Thursday (June 28; 10 a.m. Friday Beijing time), Xinhua reported. Their touchdown, in northern China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, will wrap up a historic mission that has marked a big step forward in China's ambitious space plans.
Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and Tiangong-1 lab module has been successfully separated by manual operation, according to the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.
Chinese astronaut will continue maual operation and steer the spacecraft to a safety distance.