Two astronauts yesterday conducted China’s first tandem space walk, working on the outside of the country’s new Tiangong station in orbit around Earth.
Three Chinese astronauts blasted off last month, docking at the space station where they are to remain for three months in China’s longest crewed mission to date.
Yesterday morning, two of them exited the core module, the China Manned Space agency said.
The first of the astronauts, Liu Boming (劉伯明), was transported with help from a mechanical arm to a work site and the other, Tang Hongbo (湯洪波), moved by climbing outside the hatch.
In a video clip of Liu leaving the cabin, he is heard saying: “Wow, it’s too beautiful out here.”
Their mission involves elevating a panoramic camera outside the Tianhe core module, as well as testing the robotic arm which would be used to transfer future modules around the station, state media said.
Television footage showed the astronauts preparing for the space walk by donning gear and conducting health checks while exercising.
The crew members were later shown opening the hatch and exiting the module separately, wearing newly developed suits said to weigh about 130kg.
This is the first of two space walks planned for the mission, both expected to last six or seven hours.
It is also the first time since 2008 that Chinese astronauts have come out of their craft in space. Back then, Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Astronaut Corps Major General Zhai Zhigang (翟志剛) made China the third country to complete a space walk — after the Soviet Union and the US.
As with the 2008 mission, the launch of China’s first crewed mission in nearly five years is a matter of huge prestige for the country, as Beijing marks the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party this month with a massive propaganda campaign.
To prepare, the crew underwent more than 6,000 hours of training.
The agency is planning a total of 11 launches through to the end of next year, including three more crewed missions that would deliver two laboratory modules to expand the station, along with supplies and crew members.
In addition to Liu and Tang, the mission’s commander is Nie Haisheng (聶海勝), a decorated PLA Air Force pilot who has already participated in two space missions.
He supported the latest space walk from within the cabin.
State television yesterday also showed footage of the astronauts’ daily lives on Tiangong, including setting up an exercise bike and working out on a treadmill.
One crew member was shown eating with chopsticks, while another did a handstand and somersault after mealtime.
The mission attracted a flurry of discussion online, with a hashtag about the space walk garnering 200 million views on social media.
One user wrote: “How much I’m moved by each step of achievement is beyond words.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has said that the construction of China’s first space station is opening “new horizons” in humanity’s bid to explore the cosmos.
China’s ambition to build an orbiting outpost of its own was fueled in part by a US ban on its astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), a collaboration between the US, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan.
The ISS is due for retirement after 2024, although NASA has said that it could potentially remain functional beyond 2028.
Tiangong is expected to have a lifespan of at least 10 years, and China has said it would be open to international collaboration on the station.
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