Agence France-PresseJuly 05, 2021 11:36:37 am
Chinese astronauts successfully conducted the country’s first tandem spacewalk on Sunday, working for seven hours outside the new Tiangong station in orbit around Earth.
The construction of Tiangong is an important step in China’s ambitious space program, which has seen the nation land a rover on Mars and send probes to the Moon.
Three astronauts took off last month to become the station’s first crew, where they will stay for three months on China’s longest manned mission to date.
On Sunday morning, two of them left the station for about seven hours of work on the first spacewalk in Tiangong, the China Manned Space Agency said.
“The safe return of astronauts Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo to the Tianhe core module marks the complete success of the first spacewalk in the construction of our country’s space station,” the space agency said.
Their tasks included raising a panoramic camera outside the central Tianhe module, as well as testing the station’s robotic arm that will be used to transfer future modules around the station, state media said.
The astronauts installed stops on the robotic arm and, with their support, carried out other assembly work, the space agency added.
In a video clip of Liu leaving the hut, he exclaimed, “Wow, it’s too beautiful here.”
So read: Everything you need to know about the launch of three Chinese astronauts to your Tiangong-3 space station
Television footage showed the astronauts preparing for the spacewalk by donning gear and performing health checks while exercising.
Liu and Tang were later shown opening the hatch and exiting the module separately, wearing newly developed suits said to weigh about 130 kilograms.
They were supported from inside the station by mission commander Nie Haisheng, a decorated air force pilot on his third space mission.
This was the first of two spacewalks planned for the mission, and both are expected to last six to seven hours.
It was also the first time since 2008 that Chinese astronauts got out of their spacecraft. Back then, Zhai Zhigang made China the third country to complete a spacewalk after the Soviet Union and the United States.
This is China’s first manned mission in nearly five years, and a matter of great prestige as the country celebrates the centennial of the ruling Communist Party this month with a massive propaganda campaign.
To prepare, the crew underwent more than 6,000 hours of training.
The Chinese space agency is planning a total of 11 launches until the end of next year, including three more manned missions. They will deliver two laboratory modules to expand the station, along with supplies and astronauts.
Beyond the words
On Sunday, state television showed images of the astronauts’ daily life in Tiangong, including installing an exercise bike and exercising on a treadmill.
One crew member was shown eating with chopsticks, while another did a handstand and cartwheel after mealtime.
The mission drew a flurry of discussion online, with a hashtag about the spacewalk garnering 200 million views on China’s Weibo platform, similar to Twitter.
One user wrote: “How much I am moved by each step of the achievement is beyond words.”
President Xi Jinping has said that the construction of China’s first space station is opening “new horizons” in humanity’s attempt to explore the cosmos.
China’s ambition to build an orbital outpost of its own was fueled in part by the US banning its astronauts from the International Space Station, a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan.
The ISS will be retired after 2024, although NASA has said it could continue to function 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.
Also read: China will soon have a monopoly on space stations when Tiangong construction begins