China prepares for first spacewalk

Astronauts aboard China’s Shenzhou 7 spacecraft are readying spacesuits for Saturday’s spacewalk – the country’s first ever.

Prepping the two suits – one Chinese, one Russian – takes around 12 hours, and includes booting up the power, life support, and other systems and synchronising them, said Wang Zhaoyao, deputy director of China’s manned space program office.

“This is China’s first attempt (at a spacewalk) so there are a lot of uncertainties,” Mr Wang said at a news conference in Beijing.

The 20-minute spacewalk is scheduled for this afternoon; the exact timing depends on the readiness of equipment and personnel, Mr Wang said. The event will be broadcast live on television, he said.

Performing a successful spacewalk is a key step in mastering techniques for linking two orbiters, required to create China’s first space station, expected within the next few years.

The two astronauts donning suits for the spacewalk will be supported by Russian experts throughout the mission.

Only one astronaut will actually leave the orbiter module to retrieve scientific experiments placed outside, described by the official Xinhua news agency as solid lubricant samples.

The ship will then release an 88-pound satellite that will circle the orbiter and send back images to mission command.

Shenzhou 7 commander Zhai Zhigang is expected to carry out the spacewalk.

Like his fellow taikonauts, he is a 42-year-old fighter pilot; the three have each logged more than 1,000 hours of flying time.

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