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Chinese Taikonaut Greets Nation, World in First Chines Spacewalk 2008-09-27 16:46:51  

    BEIJING, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) --

Chinese Taikonaut Zhai Zhigang completed a spacewalk Saturday afternoon, marking a historic breakthrough in the country's ambitious space program, which will eventually lead to the establishment of a permanent space station.

    Donning a 4-million-U.S.dollar homemade Feitian space suit, Zhai slipped out of the orbital module of Shenzhou-7 in a head-out-first position at around 4:43 p.m. (0843 GMT).

    He waved to the camera mounted on the service module after pulling himself out of the capsule, video monitors at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) showed.

    "Shenzhou-7 is now outside the spacecraft. I feel well. I am here greeting the Chinese people and people of the whole world," the taikonaut reported to the ground control in Beijing.

The video grab taken on Sept. 27, 2008 in Beijing, China, shows Chinese taikonaut Zhai Zhigang is outside the orbital module. (Xinhua Photo)

    Chinese leaders including President Hu Jintao watched live transmission of the spacewalk from the Beijing control center, breaking into applause with the successful completion of each stage of the maneuver.

    Zhai, who is having his 42th birthday next month, was an air force pilot before enrolled in the manned space program. He grew up in dirt-poor hardship with five siblings in the country's far northeast.

    Minutes after Zhai was outside the capsule, teammate Liu Bomingalso emerged briefly and handed Zhai a Chinese national flag that Zhai waved in the outer space against the backdrop of the blue planet Earth. The third crew member, Jing Haipeng, monitored the ship from inside the re-entry module.

    Video monitors at the ground control showed Zhai then slowly leaned towards a test sample of solid lubricant placed outside the orbital module. He took the sample and handed it over to Liu.

    Solid lubricant is widely used in spacecraft. The test sample carried by Shenzhou-7 included 11 types of solid lubricants. Chinese scientists said they hoped to improve the property and lifetime of the materials by studying the samples.


    After the handover of the test sample, Zhai, who dreamed of flying into space when he was a teenager, started the core part of the space adventure -- spacewalking about 343 km above the earth.

    The taikonaut, tethered to the spacecraft with two safety wires and a long electric cord providing oxygen and communications, moved slowly along a set of handrails around the orbital module.

    Zhai "walked step by step" by shifting the wire hooks connecting him and the spacecraft.

    The live telecast of the historic moment was watched by tens of millions of Chinese and met with applauses and cheers by crowds before downtown outdoor screens and office television sets.

    "Zhai's spacewalk is more miraculous than science fictions," Yan Peng, editor-in-chief of a movie magazine, World Screen, said." As a Chinese, watching this spacewalk is such an enjoyable thing."

    At a media center set up for overseas journalists in Beijing, Deng Yibing, chief engineer of the astronaut training center, turned quite emotional when watching the live show.

The video grab taken on Sept. 27, 2008 in Beijing, China, shows Chinese taikonaut Zhai Zhigang outside module after opening the door of the orbital module. (Xinhua Photo)

    "The spacewalk was done exactly as it was planed," Deng said.

    "As a man with China's manned space program, watching Zhai Zhigang walking in space is like a mother watching her tottering child," he said. "Even though the steps were still a little bit staggering, I am so happy and satisfied."

    The successful spacewalk also brought excitement to southwest China's Sichuan Province, where people are still struggling to recover from a deadly earthquake in May.

    "Mankind is so small in universe, but we are also brave. The taikonaut's courage to explore the unknown universe is an inspiration to me," Deng Fuqiang, a teacher at a tent school in Mianyang.

    "No matter it is natural disaster or space exploration, I believe there is nothing we cannot overcome as long as we pool our efforts and be united," said Deng, who watched the online broadcast in his office.

The video grab taken on Sept. 27, 2008 in Beijing, China, shows Chinese taikonaut Zhai Zhigang waves after opening the door of the orbital module. (Xinhua Photo) Photo Gallery>>>


    After staying outside the capsule for about 20 minutes and traveling about 9,165 km along with the spacecraft in space, Zhai returned to the orbital module in a foot-in-first position, marking a complete success of China's first space walk.

    President Hu talked with the trio taikonauts after Zhai and Liuchanged back to working uniforms and joined Jing at the re-entry module.

    Hu hailed the spacewalk as a breakthrough and thanked the taikonauts for their devotion and excellent performance.

    "How did you feel like in space after exiting the module?" asked a smiling Hu, who was talking on phone with the taikonauts.

    "I felt superb," answered Zhai. "The process of taking on the Feitian spacesuit went smooth," said Zhai, looking confident and radiant on the screen at the BACC. "In the vast space, I felt proud of our motherland," he said.

    The Shenzhou-7 spacecraft took off from northwest China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 9:10 p.m. on Thursday, and is scheduled to land on the Inner Mongolia steppe at about 5:40 p.m. on Sunday.

    Before its return, the Shenzhou-7 will carry out trials of satellite data relay, a task aimed to improve the coverage and efficiency of China's satellite observation network.

In 2003, China became the third country after the United States and Russia to send a human into orbit. It followed with a two-man mission in 2005. The successful spacewalk makes China the third to master the extravehicular activity (EVA) technology following the United States and Russia.

    (Reporting by Ji Shaoting, Wang Xiuqiong, Li Huizi and reporters of Xinhua's PLA Bureau, local bureaus, Writing by Chang Ai-ling)

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