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May 29, 2024

Chinese Astronauts Conduct Historic Spacewalk Outside Tiangong Space Station

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Dec 21, 2023

Chinese astronauts Liu Boming and Chen Dong conducted a historic spacewalk outside the Tiangong space station module Wentian on Wednesday, marking China’s first extravehicular activities (EVAs) during the Shenzhou-14 mission. The nearly seven-hour spacewalk tested a new-generation Chinese spacesuit and demonstrated key capabilities to assemble and maintain the growing orbital outpost.

Astronauts Emerge from Airlock to Begin Ambitious Spacewalk

At 8:51 a.m. Beijing Time, Liu Boming opened the hatch of the Wentian lab module and emerged slowly into open space, closely followed just minutes later by crewmate Chen Dong around 9:00 a.m. The two astronauts wore China’s next-generation Feitian spacesuits, specially designed for EVAs.

Key Milestones During the Shenzhou-14 Spacewalk:

- 8:51 a.m. - Liu Boming egresses the hatch 
- 9:00 a.m. - Chen Dong egresses the hatch
- For nearly 7 hours - Conduct experiments and test equipment installations on the exterior of the Wentian module
- 3:16 p.m. - Chen Dong ingresses the hatch
- 3:33 p.m. - Liu Boming ingresses the hatch

The Feitian suits represent a major upgrade over previous-gen Chinese spacesuits, offering better mobility and functionality. Outfitted with their suit backpacks containing critical life support systems, Liu and Chen uncoupled safety tethers attaching them to the spacecraft and began translating along handrails to their worksites.

Chinese mission controllers closely monitored all spacesuit and spacecraft systems throughout the spacewalk, keeping in continual contact with the taikonauts through audio and video links from helmet cameras and external cameras on the Tiangong station.

Taikonauts Test New Spacesuit Functions and Conduct Scientific Experiments

This maiden spacewalk had several key goals – testing the Feitian spacesuits themselves in the space environment, evaluating the ergonomics and control of movements, installing extravehicular experiment payloads, and testing other equipment to be used in future EVAs during Tiangong construction.

The two astronauts split up tasks once outside, with Liu Boming focusing on experiment installations while Chen Dong tested suit mobility and capabilities at one of the Wentian maneuvering handrails.

Liu installed multiple experiment exposure payloads designed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) along the exterior of Wentian. These will help test the space endurance of new materials when directly exposed to the harsh environment of space over longer durations.

Meanwhile, Chen braced himself on Wentian’s handrails and demonstrated movements looking upwards, downwards, and to each side – motions important for supporting future module additions to the Tiangong station. He also used a large handled tool to test restrainments and force applications for potential external equipment installations in later EVAs.

Taikonauts Wrap Up Spacewalk, Return Safely to Airlock

After nearly 7 hours of busy activities testing their new spacesuits and conducting experiments outside the Wentian module, Liu and Chen wrapped up China’s first ever spacewalk at the Tiangong station. They re-entered Wentian’s airlock and one-by-one closed the hatches behind them, ending exposure to the vacuum of space.

The ambitious spacewalk pushed the capabilities of China’s new Feitian spacesuit design to its limits – almost reaching the 8 hour upper duration limit. Both liu and Chen reported feeling normal and in good spirits after their history-making EVA, which kicks off an envisioned series of spacewalks supporting construction of the Chinese Space Station over the next two years.

What’s Next for China’s Shenzhou-14 Crew?

With the first spacewalk now complete, the three Shenzhou-14 astronauts Liu Yang, Liu Boming, and Chen Dong will return to their scheduled science research activities aboard Tiangong over the next three months. However they can likely expect to conduct at least one or two more EVAs during their 6 month orbital stay.

These future spacewalks will start preparing vital infrastructure for the major expansion of the Tiangong Station next year, which is currently only comprised of the Tianhe core module along with the two recently added Wentian and Mengtian lab modules.

In 2023, China plans to launch the next two modules – Xuntian, an optical telescope module, and a large experimental module called Mengtian-2. Both of these will require extensive external outfitting and assembly EVAs to attach to the current station structure.

The experience gained from Shenzhou-14’s test spacewalk helps pave the way for the major construction push ahead, letting China’s taikonauts exercise their skills installing experiments and equipment outside Tiangong’s modules.

With the EVAs going smoothly, China is well on its way towards assembling a fully operational space station rivaling capabilities of the older International Space Station (ISS) through the 2020s and beyond.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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