Just before smashing a record for the longest stay in Earth’s orbit by Chinese astronauts, one record breaker sent greetings from space to fellow European astronauts. Chen Dong and his comrade Jing Hailing spent a month aboard the Tiangong-2 space lab, which was launched just this past September. The space lab will test systems for space stays and refueling in space, according to an official government statement. It is the second orbiting space lab, preceded by the smaller Tiangong-1.
In the zero gravity message, Dong commended the international efforts between the European Space Agency (ESA) and other nations and expressed his gratitude for a birthday cheesecake created by French chef Alain Ducasse. “During this flight mission, we have tasted the European space foods, and on my birthday, I particularly tasted the cakes provided by ESA,” he said in a translation of the video. “Very delicious!” Haipeng and Dong made it safely back to Earth last week.
In the meantime, three astronauts launched aboard a car-sized Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS): ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, Roscosmos commander Oleg Novitsky, and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. The Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft took off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and has taken people to space for almost 50 years.
After circling the Earth for two days to catch up with the ISS, the trio entered the space station on November 19 and will spend six months in space as part of the Proxima mission, which is named after the closest star to the sun, Proxima Centauri. Pesquet will conduct about 50 experiments for the ESA as well as France’s space agency. He is the first French astronaut to visit the ISS since 2008. It is Whitson’s third expedition on the station.