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Countdown begins for China’s first spacewalk: Shenzhou-7 spaceship launches into orbit with 3 Chinese astronauts


By WcP.Scientific.Mind - Posted on 26 September 2008

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng, Liu Boming and Zhai Zhigang during a ceremony before the launch of the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu province on Thursday

(quote)

After three decades of hoping, 10 years of training, and at least 12 hours preparing his spacesuit, Zhai Zhigang is expected to make history in just 20 minutes tomorrow as the first Chinese astronaut to do a space walk. The 42-year-old former fighter pilot will don a £2m, ten-layered Chinese-designed suit, weighing 120kg (265lb), to exit the Shenzhou VII module.

The Chinese Shenzhou VII spacecraft blasted off at 9:07 p.m. Thursday, carrying three Chinese astronauts into space on this country’s third manned space mission in five years. The Chinese government has spent billions of dollars in recent years building up a space program that it hopes will help China establish a space station by 2020 and eventually will put a man on the moon, accomplishments that would certainly bring the country international prestige.

China's manned space mission successfully reached its final orbit early on Friday (September 26) morning

China sent into space three experienced fighter pilots, all of them 42-year-old men. The three taikonauts - the Chinese term for astronauts - plan to run tests in space and launch a small satellite monitoring station. They are carrying traditional Chinese medicine on board, in case of sickness, and their diet includes shredded pork sautéed with garlic and grilled beef with spicy sauce.

One astronaut is wearing what the state-run news media has dubbed “the most complicated, advanced and expensive suit in the world,” a $4.4 million space suit designed and produced in China. The spacecraft was launched by what the Chinese space agency calls the Long March II-F carrier rocket, which took the spacecraft into a low orbit, about 210 miles above Earth. The Chinese government also hopes the national space program will aid the nation economically by helping to create technological breakthroughs that may someday be applied to computers or other digital equipment.

Zhai Zhigang, the lead Chinese astronaut for the mission, is expected to become his nation's first spacewalker. He is slated to exit the spacecraft at 4:30 a.m. ET (0830 GMT) to conduct a 20-minute excursion into space. He will be assisted from inside the capsule by his crewmates, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng. After donning his spacesuit and depressurizing the orbital module of the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft, Zhai is scheduled to exit the hatch and use handrails outside the craft to move around.

astronaut Jing Haipeng talks to the command and control center of Shenzhou VII

"Head first and feet later," Wu Bin, an expert in charge of astronaut training with the China Astronaut Research and Training Center, told Xinhua. "The astronaut is expected to greet to a camera on the spaceship surface as soon as his head and hands are out," Wu said. Once outside the vehicle, Zhai, a 42-year-old fighter pilot, plans to collect a test sample of solid lubricant from the surface of the spacecraft that was placed there before the launch. Then the spacecraft will release an 88-pound (40-kilogram) satellite which will circle the ship and send back images to mission control.

A major test during the activity will be whether the new, Chinese-built spacesuit Zhai wears will work as designed. The suit (called "Feitian," meaning "fly the sky" in Chinese) must protect Zhai from the harsh temperatures and radiation of space. The Feitian suit has 10 layers, weighs about 265 pounds (120 kg), and takes up to 15 hours to assemble and put on, Xinhua reported. Within the suit's pressurized, temperature-controlled environment, Zhai should be able to move about in space while tethered to the vehicle through an electric cable.

While Zhai is conducting his activities outside, Liu Boming will help out from inside the de-pressurized orbital module, while wearing a Russian-built Orlan spacesuit. Russian experts will also be advising the mission from the ground along with Chinese space officials, the Associated Press reported. The third astronaut, Jing Haipeng, will stay inside the re-entry module of the spacecraft, which is set to carry all three taikonauts back to Earth. After a 68-hour voyage into space, Shenzhou 7 is scheduled to land in Inner Mongolia on Sunday.

China plans to broadcast tomorrow's spacewalk live as it happens.

(unquote)

Photos courtesy of European Pressphoto Agency, EFE, Color China Photo via Associated Press, and Xinhua

Original Source: The Guardian, UK, NY Times, and Space.com

Related Articles: China's spacemen taking one small step for kudos (with video), Chinese astronauts test suit for spacewalk mission, and China prepares for first spacewalk

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