First spacewalk at China’s new Tiangong station


Chinese astronauts Tang Hongbo (L), Nie Haisheng (C) and Liu Boming (R) are the first crew members of the country’s new space station. – © AFP

Beiyi SEOW

Two astronauts made China’s first tandem spacewalk on Sunday, working outside their nation’s new Tiangong station orbiting the Earth.

Three Chinese astronauts exploded in June and docked at the space station where they are to remain for three months on China’s longest luggage mission to date.

On Sunday morning, two of them left the central module, China’s Manned Space Agency said.

The first, Liu Boming, was transported with help from a mechanical arm to a workplace and the other, Tang Hongbo, was moved up outside the hatch.

In a video clip of Liu coming out of the booth, he exclaimed, “Wow, it’s too pretty here.”

Its mission is to elevate a panoramic camera outside Tianhe’s central module, as well as test the robotic arm that will be used to transfer future modules around the station, state media reported.

Television footage showed astronauts preparing for the spacewalk, putting on equipment and doing health checks while exercising.

Crew members were later shown opening the hatch and leaving the module separately, in newly developed suits that were said to weigh about 130 kilograms.

This is the first of two spacewalks planned for the mission, which is expected to last six to seven hours.

It is also the first time since 2008 that Chinese astronauts have left the profession in space. At the time, Commander Zhai Zhigang made China the third country to complete a spacewalk, after the Soviet Union and the United States.

Graph showing the component parts of the Chinese space station currently underway. – © AFP

As with the 2008 mission, the launch of China’s first manned mission in nearly five years is a matter of enormous prestige for the country, as Beijing marks the centenary of the ruling Communist Party this month with a massive campaign of propaganda.

To prepare, the crew received more than 6,000 hours of training.

The Chinese space agency plans a total of 11 launches by the end of next year, including three more manned missions that will deliver two lab modules to expand the station, along with supplies and crew members.

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In addition to Liu and Tang, the commander of the mission is Nie Haisheng, a decorated Air Force pilot who has already participated in two space missions.

He supported the last spacewalk from inside the cabin.

– ‘Beyond words’ –

On Sunday, state television showed footage of astronauts ’daily lives in Tiangong, including the installation of an exercise bike and training on a treadmill.

One crew member was shown eating with chopsticks, while another made a handshake and turned around after eating.

The mission attracted a wave of online discussions, with a hashtag about the spacewalk that garnered 200 million views on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.

Tang Hongbo and Liu Boming (R) took the first spacewalk at the new Chinese Tiangong space station. – © AFP

One user wrote, “What moves me about every step of achievement is beyond words.”

President Xi Jinping has said that the construction of China’s first space station opens up “new horizons” in humanity’s commitment to exploring the cosmos.

China’s ambition to build its own space orbit was fueled in part by the US ban on its astronauts on the International Space Station, a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and the United States. Japan.

The ISS will have to be withdrawn after 2024, although NASA has said it may continue to operate beyond 2028.

Tiangong is expected to have a shelf life of at least ten years and China has said it would be open to international cooperation at the station.

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