It’s not just American and European astronauts who get to walk in space. Over the weekend, two Chinese taikonauts conducted the country’s a) first spacewalk at its new Tiangong space station and b) the first tandem spacewalk attempted by the country.
Obviously, the mission outside of Tiangong was a success, or the first paragraph would have had a very different emphasis. Taikonauts Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo left Tianngong’s main Tainhe module on 4 July to work on the module’s robotic arm. Mission commander Nie Haisheng remained inside while this was taking place.
Taking risks as a taikonaut
A spacewalk doesn’t seem like a big deal, until you really think about it. It takes several days to get things ready. You’re more isolated than just about anyone in the history of Earth. When you finally get outside, you’re tenuously attached to a small craft whizzing around the planet while 380 kilometres up in the air, and you’re expected to install equipment on the outside of this thing while wearing the world’s most uncomfortable suit without throwing up in your helmet or flicking yourself into space by mistake.
China’s guys managed just fine on their seven-hour spacewalk while wearing the new Feitian space suits, though. The country’s Manned Space Agency said, “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.”
This marks the first time since 2008 that a Chinese taikonaut has spent time outside of a spacecraft but it’s unlikely to be the last. On 12 July the Shenzhou-12 crew have another trip out into space to complete exterior setup for the rest of the space station, which will be delivered in instalments over the next few years.