Astronauts Conduct First Space Walk Outside Chinese Space Station

The numerous celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party have highlighted, and understandably so, the tremendous progress China has
achieved over the decades in multiple areas. President Xi Jinping has personally stressed that the Chinese people will never again allow “outside forces” to oppress them, or stop their development.

Certainly, one of the country’s most impressive achievements has been in space exploration. In fact, a new feat of its space program was timed to coincide with the height of the celebrations. Indeed, on July 3, two of the three Chinese astronauts stationed in the Tianhe space module, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, ventured outside to conduct the first extravehicular activity of their current mission. The three-man team is up there to prepare for the operations of the space station which will be completed with the addition of two other modules, one which will provide the living quarters for the astronauts while the other will house the scientific laboratory. The station is also equipped with a robotic arm which will be instrumental in the construction and the operation of the station.

Liu, who went out of the core module at around 8:26 a.m. Beijing time, attached a foot restraint and platform to the end of the station’s 33-foot-long (10-meter) robotic arm and then mounted the arm himself. Tang started his spacewalk at around 11:02 a.m. Beijing time. Aided by the handrails mounted on the space station and tethered to the vehicle, he crawled to the operation site cooperating with Liu. At the same time, Nie Haisheng, the commander of the mission, remained inside the core module to support the pair’s operation outside, operating the robotic arm. The two also installed a lifting bracket for one of the extravehicular panoramic cameras, which was initially installed at a lower position on the robotic arm, but provided a more limited vision than that which was required. They also conducted an emergency return-tovehicle test, which will be needed if they have to return from an EVA quickly.

The Chinese Feitian spacesuits are similar to the Orlan-M spacesuits used by Russian cosmonauts. The Feitian’s helmets are equipped with cameras, broadcasting a first-person view similar to NASA’s extravehicular mobility unit (EMU) spacesuit.

The astronauts, who will remain on the space station for three months, will also configure and test the Tianhe core module’s systems, conduct science experiments and participate in video downlinks.

The Shenzhou-12 team will be followed by another team, which will remain on the station six months and complete the full construction of the space station. When completed, the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) station will be China’s first multimodule space station. Chinese astronauts will conduct scientific experiments on it and there is an ongoing invitation for other countries’ astronauts to also work on the station. Unlike the U.S. Artemis program, they have not set any political or ideological limits on the countries that wish to participate.

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