For the first time, two astronauts have worked outside the Chinese space station, completing only the second spacewalk in the history of the country’s space program.
Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo began the six-hour and 46-minute extravehicular activity (EVA) on Saturday, July 3 at 8:11 p.m. EDT (0011 GMT or 8:11 a.m. Beijing time on July 4). Liu was the first to leave the space station Tianhe Core Module (“Harmony of the Heavens”), followed by Tang about three hours later.
Wearing improved Chinese Feitian space suits, the two Shenzhou 12 teammates equipped the space station with the necessary tools to support future activities.
Video: Watch the crew of China’s first space station enter the Tianhe module
Liu, initially working alone, attached a footrest and platform to the end of the station’s 10-meter-long robotic arm, then mounted the arm himself. Shenzhou 12 commander Nie Haisheng then tested the arm controls, moving Liu from inside the Tianhe module.
Tang, attached to the handrails along the outside of the space station, then joined Liu to extend a panoramic camera. They then continued to work together to install other EVA equipment using the robotic arm.
“After about 7 hours of outdoor activities, the 12 Shenzhou teammates working closely together successfully completed all the tasks planned during the spacewalk,” the manned Chinese Space Agency announced at the end of the EVA.
In images, in pictures: The most memorable spacewalks in history
Liu and Tang completed the spacewalk at 2:57 a.m. EDT (0657 GMT or 2:57 p.m. Beijing time) on Sunday.
A second spacewalk is planned later as part of the Shenzhou 12 mission, which launched with Nie, Liu and Tang June 16 and is expected to last three months. In addition to the test procedures, the EVAs are preparing the extension of the station with the addition of two laboratory modules which will be launched in 2022.
China’s very first spacewalk was carried out by Zhai Zhigang, commander of the Shenzhou 7 mission, in 2008. Liu was also on the mission’s crew, and during the 22-minute excursion, performed a standing EVA, popping its head out of the hatch while wearing a Russian Orlan spacesuit.
Related: The latest news from the Chinese space program
The Chinese Feitian (“flying to space”) suits are similar in design to the Orlan, with the portable survival system also serving as a rear entry hatch into the space suit. The Feitian’s helmets are fitted with cameras, broadcasting a first-person view similar to the space suit from NASA’s extravehicular activity unit (EMU).
When not on a spacewalk, Shenzhou 12 teammates configured and tested Tianhe central module systems, conducted science experiments, and participated in video downlinks, including chatting live with the president. Chinese Xi Jinping.
When completed, the T-shaped Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”) space station will be China’s first multimodule space station. In addition to hosting Chinese crews and researchers, China plans to invite international partners to visit and work aboard the orbiting outpost.
Follow collectSPACE.com on Facebook and on Twitter at @collectSPACE. Copyright 2021 collectSPACE.com. All rights reserved.
Robert Pearlman is a journalist and space historian.
Its original “Ask An Astronaut” website predated NASA’s efforts to connect the public with the men and women who have flown in space. Later, as the National Space Society’s Online Program Director, Pearlman led the redesign and expansion of the organization’s online resources and website, including writing the Spectator’s Educational Guide for the mini – Tom Hanks’ award-winning HBO series “From the Earth to the Moon.” “
In 1997, Pearlman was recruited by Buzz Aldrin to develop the first Apollo astronaut website. And in 1999, Pearlman co-founded Astronaut-endorsed Starport.com, which was later acquired by Space.com. Pearlman was then hired by Space.com to manage the site’s community projects.
Between 1998 and 2003, Pearlman was the live and online host of the live National Space Day webcast filmed at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
In 1996, Pearlman was hired by the space tourism company Space Adventures as the first director of marketing and advertising.
Today, Pearlman is the editor of collectSPACE.
Pearlman is a contributing writer for Space.com, sits on the board of directors for For All Moonkind, is a member of the American Astronautical Society’s history committee, and is a consultant for The Mars Generation.
He is the co-author of “Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space,” published October 30, 2018 by Smithsonian Books.
He was technical consultant on the film “Space Warriors” in 2013 with Mira Sorvino and Danny Glover and the film “First Man” by Damien Chazelle in 2018 with Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. He was historical consultant on Todd Douglas Miller’s 2019 documentary “Apollo 11”.
Pearlman has also appeared as a commentator on:
- Strange Legacy (Fox Business Network)
- American Restoration (History Channel)
- American gatherers (History Channel)
- Mysteries at the Museum (Travel Channel)
- The Lost Story of Brad Meltzer (H2)
- Ancient Aliens (History Channel)
- Unexplained files from NASA (Science Channel)
Pearlman previously served on the boards of the National Space Society and the US Space Walk of Fame Foundation. He is also a former National Student President for Space Exploration and Development.
In 2001, his work on collectSPACE earned Pearlman the Universal Autograph Collectors Club (UACC) Collector of the Year award.
In 2009, Pearlman was inducted into the Space Camp Hall of Fame.