Chinese taikonauts stepped out of China’s Tianhe space station core module on Sunday. Photo:Fan Wei/GT
“Wow, it is so beautiful out here!”
This was what taikonaut Liu Boming said in awe as he moved out of the node cabin of China’s Tianhe space station core module at 8:11 am on Sunday, when he embarked on the first extravehicular activity (EVA), or more commonly known as the spacewalk. This was the second spacewalk in China’s aerospace history following the one in the Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008.
Liu is one of the three-member Shenzhou-12 crew currently onboard. By 11:02 am Sunday, his fellow crew member Tang Hongbo also stepped out of the cabin and joined his spacewalking journey with success, the Global Times learned from the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) on Sunday.
Nie Haisheng, the third taikonaut in the crew and the mission commander, stayed inside the cabin and operated systems onboard the orbiting spacecraft including one for the smart robotic arm, to help and support the two spacewalking taikonauts.
The whole EVA lasted 7 hours, and by 2:57 pm, the two safely returned to the Tianhe core module, marking the successful completion of all set task goals of the first spacewalk mission, laying the foundation for a following EVA, the CMSA said.
Liu and Tang have installed foot stops on the robotic arm and working station outside the cabin. And at around 12:09 pm, they lifted the panorama camera outside the Tianhe core module, another major task for their first EVA of the mission.
Due to restrictions at launch, the panorama camera was initially installed at a lower position with a limited view, and the taikonauts’ task is to lift it to an angle available to monitor the overall situation outside the cabin, CMSA industry insiders explained with the state broadcaster Central China Television (CCTV) on Sunday.
“It’s just like setting up a ‘selfie stick’ for the camera so that it can shoot better views,” the camera’s chief designer was quoted as saying in China Space News, the newspaper co-published by China Academy of Space Technology and the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation.
The Sunday activity also tested the emergency escape plan, in case taikonauts need to return immediately to the node cabin when they encounter emergency situations during extravehicular operations.
The emergency return drill was carried out by the youngest of the three crew – Tang Hongbo, who is 46 years old and on his first trip to space. After climbing to the farthest point of Tianhe, he rushed back to the cabin gate in the fastest manner upon hearing the command.
The latest progress in the space station mission has drawn waves of admiration from netizens, who have waited 13 years for another grand spacewalk performance after Shenzhou-7’s mission in 2008. At least eight related topics topped the most searched bar on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo on Sunday, attracting some 1 billion views as of press time.
As most netizens showed great respect for the taikonauts, the amazing photos of Earth taken from outside the cabin, the surrounding sky full of stars, and the tacit coordination between the crew and the ground, left stargazers in awe, in laughter, and for some, in tears.
Analysts hailed the long-duration spacewalk operation on Sunday as another major stride forward in the country’s manned space development. Compared with the spacewalk 13 years ago which lasted only some 20 minutes for the sole purpose of verifying related technology, Sunday’s undertaking was more task-oriented.
“It was a milestone that showed China has mastered all three key technological skills required for manned space missions, which are entering space and exiting it, the rendezvous and docking of spacecraft, and the ability to work outside the cabin,” Wang Ya’nan, a space analyst and chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times on Sunday.
According to CCTV on Sunday, Liu took a ride on the smart robotic arm outside the cabin to reach the designated work point after he had installed foot stops on it.
Tang climbed to the working point in a “space spiderman” fashion, the CCTV said.
Space observers said such a design was to verify the actual reliability of both technological paths.
The two taikonauts’ extravehicular activities are supported by China’s new-generation spacesuit codenamed Feitian, which is designed to fit a taikonaut with a height range between 160-180 centimeters. Although weighing 130 kilograms each, it takes only 3-5 minutes to take it on, researchers explained.
On this special day, the three taikonauts had a rather fancy breakfast to support their high physical exertion, said Yin Rui, deputy chief commander of the astronaut system at CMSA. The meal included flower cakes from Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, flavored beef, nuts and chocolates, with a total energy load of about 600 kilocalories.
The Sunday spacewalk conducted by the taikonauts also verified the…