Preparations for first spacewalk go like clockwork, China says

Other News Materials 27 September 2008 13:31 (UTC +04:00)

Preparations for China's first spacewalk, scheduled for Saturday, went without a hitch, said Chinese mission control, which confirmed the commander of the mission would get the honour of being the first Chinese to step out into space, reported dpa.

Zhai Zhigang is to leave the Shenzhou VII spacecraft about 4:30 pm (0830 GMT) for a half-hour spacewalk.

Zhai, 41, is to test his 120-kilogram, Chinese-made protective suit, which cost 4 million to 30 million dollars, according to various state media reports.

He was also slated to perform tasks including the retrieval of a 3-kilogram solid lubricant experiment from the rear of Shenzhou VII.

Fellow astronaut Liu Boming, wearing a Russian spacesuit, is to assist him with exiting and re-entering the orbiter while the third and final astronaut on the mission, Jing Haiping, is to remain in the re-entry module.

Last-minute health checks showed all three astronauts to be in good condition and tests on the spacesuits showed they were functioning well, mission control said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The crew had spent more than 11 hours Friday unpacking and assembling the suits and then underwent 100 minutes of training to get used to the get-ups.

If all goes well, China would become the third nation to conduct a spacewalk after the United States and Russia. The three countries are also the only ones to have conducted manned space missions.

Shenzhou VII, which lifted off Thursday night from the Jiuquan space centre in north-western China, is also to release a 40-kilogram mini-satellite to monitor the orbital module and transmit video images.

Shenzhou VII is the latest stage of China's plan to build an integrated ground-space network for space exploration and manned space research, including a permanent space laboratory by 2020.