[/caption]It’s official, China has become the third nation to successfully carry out a spacewalk in Earth orbit. Fighter pilot Zhai Zhigang was the first to exit the Shenzhou-7 module at 16:30 Beijing Time (08:30 GMT), as the Chinese space agency streamed live video of the event. Zhai lifted himself through the hatch and waved at the camera attached to the service module on the outside of the craft, with Earth looming overhead. Shortly after, crew mate Liu Boming emerged to hand Zhai a small Chinese flag which he waved enthusiastically. The extra-vehicular activity (EVA) lasted for about 15 minutes. At the start of the EVA, Zhai said, “I’m feeling quite well. I greet the Chinese people and the people of the world.”
Shenzhou-7 was launched by a Long March II-F rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern Gansu Province of China on Thursday, carrying Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng into space on the three-day mission. The principal objective was to successfully complete a spacewalk, paving the way for a Chinese orbital outpost and eventual mission to the Moon within the decade. It would appear the mission was a success, allowing China into an exclusive club of only three nations ever to have carried out orbital activities in a space suit.
Zhai and Liu wore a Chinese-designed spacesuit called “Feitian” (which literally translates as “Fly in the Sky”), thought to cost between £5m and £20m ($10m-$40m) apiece. The third taikonaut (or “yuhangyuan”) Jing Haipeng, remained inside Shenzhou-7 wearing a Russian-made Orlan suit.
Whilst outside the craft, attached via an umbilical cable, Zhai retrieved a test sample of solid lubricant attached to the outside of the module before they were launched. He passed the sample to Liu. Once the handover was complete, 16 minutes into the EVA, both men re-entered the capsule.
Zhai, now China’s first man to ever carry out an EVA in Earth orbit, will celebrate his 42nd birthday next month. Prior to enrolling in China’s manned space programme, he was an air force pilot, and before then the official Chinese news agency was keen to highlight that Zhai “grew up in dirt-poor hardship with five siblings in the country’s far northeast,” and he “dreamed of flying into space when he was an impoverished teenager.”
This is an amazing achievement that will only boost the space-faring confidence of the Chinese. Perhaps the first Chinese Moon base isn’t that far off after all…