Saturday, September 27, 2008

Chinese Taikonaut Performs Nation's First Spacewalk

Recently, on Saturday, a Chinese taikonaut (astronaut) has just performed the nation's first-ever spacewalk, the latest milestone in an ambitious project that is increasingly rivaling the United States and Russia Federation in its rapid expansion.

Top Communist Party officials including President Hu Jintao watched the spacewalk from a Beijing command center, breaking into applause with the successful completion of each stage of the maneuver.

Zhai Zhigang, a Mission commander, floated out of the orbiter module's hatch in the spacewalk, shown live on state broadcaster CCTV. Tethered to handles attached to the Shenzhou 7 ship's orbital module's exterior. He remained outside for about 13 minutes before climbing back inside and closing the hatch behind him.

Fellow taikonaut Liu Boming also emerged briefly from the capsule to hand Zhai a Chinese flag that he waved for an exterior camera filming the event. The third crewmember, Jing Haipeng, monitored the ship from inside the re-entry module.

The achievement paves the way for assembling a space station from two Shenzhou orbital modules, the next major aim of China's manned spaceflight project. China is also pursuing lunar exploration and may attempt to land a man on the moon in the next decade, possibly earlier than NASA's 2020 target schedule for returning to the moon.

China launched its first manned mission, Shenzhou 5, in 2003, becoming only the third country after the United States and Russia Federation to launch a man into space. In step with its growing list of achievements, the military-backed program has risen progressively less secretive and officials have hinted in recent days at a desire for greater cooperation with other nations. China plans to mass-produce the next version of the Shenzhou ship to service a future space station and says it may make such missions available to other nations.

Space cooperation between China and other countries has so far been limited and the United States has refused Chinese involvement in the international space station for fear it could steal technical secrets applicable to its arms industry. In addition, a Chinese space project official said earlier that Russian technicians would assist in Saturday's spacewalk. However, it was not clear what role they played.

According to the official Xinhua News Agency, since blasting off from their northwestern China launch base on Friday, the taikonauts had been largely occupied with preparing the suits and adapting to zero gravity. Meals aboard the craft have followed a typical Chinese menu, featuring versions of kung pao chicken, shrimp and dried fruit.

According to Xinhua said, on Friday, the three-module capsule shifted from an oval orbit to a more stable circular orbit 213 miles above Earth, meaning it is circling at a constant distance. The change ensured that Earth's gravitational pull would not vary during the spacewalk attempt and will help Shenzhou make a precise landing on the Inner Mongolian Steppe on Sunday after its re-entry vehicle bursts through Earth's atmosphere. Following the spacewalk, the craft is to release an 88-pound satellite that is to circle the orbiter and send back images to mission control.

Read also: Shenzhou 7 Manned Mission to Carry Three Taikonauts

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