Chinese Astronauts Score Firsts on New Space Station

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Just a couple of weeks after arriving at China’s new space station, two astronauts have performed the first spacewalk at the orbiting outpost.

Sunday’s extravehicular activity (EVA), as spacewalks are officially known, was also the first to be performed as a pair by Chinese astronauts, as its only other spacewalk in 2008 involved a single crew member.

A video clip of the EVA shows astronaut Liu Boming working on the exterior of the space station as the second astronaut, Tang Hongbo, emerges from the hatch of the core Tianhe module. The other astronaut in the three-man crew, Nie Haisheng, stayed inside the station and assisted his two colleagues by operating a small robotic arm located on the outside of the satellite.

According to SpaceNews, the pair attached foot restraints during the walk, and also installed an extravehicular working platform before setting up a panoramic camera.

The EVA lasted for seven hours with a second one expected to take place later in the three-month mission.

“The safe return of astronauts Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo to the Tianhe core module marks the complete success of the first spacewalk in our country’s space station construction,” the China Manned Space Agency said in a statement.

The astronauts have access to around 50 cubic meters of living space in the core module, which is orbiting around 230 miles above Earth, 20 miles below the International Space Station (ISS). Two laboratory capsules coming to China’s new station at a later date will increase the habitable space to 110 cubic meters, which is about a third of the habitable space on the ISS.

The core module features six zones for work, sleep, sanitation, dining, healthcare, and exercise, according to Chinese news outlet CGTN, and the astronauts can reportedly enjoy 120 different dishes, each one geared toward maintaining good health during their stay.

With a U.S. law preventing Chinese involvement in the ISS, the Asian nation decided to go it alone and build its own orbiting laboratory. The project started with the Tiangong-1 prototype in 2011 and the Tiangong-2 prototype five years later, after which it deployed the core module of its current, largest, and most advanced station in April 2021.

China is currently riding high with its space program as it seeks to explore well beyond its borders and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. Indeed, China’s President Xi Jinping earlier stated that the country’s first fully operational space station will open “new horizons” in humanity’s quest to learn more about the cosmos.

Last year China launched a rover mission to Mars that arrived at the red planet in February 2021, and also successfully completed a mission to the moon that delivered lunar rocks to Earth.

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