Fire alarm during China's first spacewalk was false

Other News Materials 28 September 2008 07:18 (UTC +04:00)

As China's Shenzhou 7 spacecraft prepared for return to Earth later Sunday, Chinese space officials said a fire alarm that went off during its first spacewalk was false, dpa reported.

Wang Zhaoyao, spokesperson for the country's manned space programme, said late Saturday that an alarm sounded because of sensor error, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"We were quite nervous when the astronaut in the re-entry module reported the fire alarm," he told reporters.

But he said officials "became quite relaxed" when they realized the fire alarm was in the orbital module which was "opened to the vacuum of outer space and no air was there to ignite the flame."

Shenzhou 7 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.

It first sent an astronaut into space five years ago.

The spacewalk by China's "taikonaut" Zhai Zhigang Saturday afternoon lasted 20 minutes and was watched by Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintaoi, on live transmissions.

Chinese officialdom hailed the milestone as another reason for national "pride and joy," along with the successful conclusion of the 2008 Olympic Games.

The three-man mission is to to return to Earth about 0940 GMT if everything goes "smooth" and "according to preset schedules," said Deng Yibing, chief engineer of the astronaut training center.

He warned however that the return had some risks and it was possible the taikonauts could be hurt if anything goes wrong.

"The spacecraft will reach the earth shortly before it grows dark, making the search and rescue mission more difficult than previous missions," Deng said.

The mission began on Thursday with launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.

During the mission, the astronauts launched as small monitoring satellite less than 40 kilogrammes which was to orbit the orbital module and send back the spaceship's first full video images.