Chinese Astronauts Conduct First Multi-Hour Spacewalk

Chinese Astronauts Conduct First Multi-Hour Spacewalk

Two astronauts aboard the Chinese space station module Tianhe conducted a 7-hour spacewalk today. It is only the second spacewalk in the history of the Chinese space program. The first, more than a decade ago, lasted just 22 minutes.

Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo installed foot restraints on the module’s robotic arm, elevated a robotic camera, and conducted other assembly tasks for the nascent space facility. Two laboratory modules will be added next year.

A third astronaut, Nie Haisheng, assisted from inside the module. The three were launched to Tianhe on the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft on June 16, 2021 EDT (June 17 Beijing Time).

Westerners often refer to Chinese astronauts as taikonauts, but English-language Chinese media reports call them astronauts.

Though new for China, spacewalks have been routine in the U.S. and Soviet/Russian space programs since the 1960s.

For the International Space Station alone, there have been 241 spacewalks by U.S., Russian, European, Canadian and Japanese crewmembers since 1998.

Russia’s Anatoly Solovyev holds the world record of 16 spacewalks throughout his career, totaling 82 hours and 22 minutes. Michael Lopez-Alegria holds the U.S. record at 10 spacewalks totaling 67 hours and 40 minutes.

That is not to diminish China’s achievement today. Jumping from a 22-minute spacewalk in 2008 to a 7-hour spacewalk now is no mean feat.

China’s human spaceflight program proceeds at a measured pace. Shenzhou-12 is only the seventh human spaceflight mission since its first in 2003.  Before this, the most recent was five years ago.

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