Astronaut Wang Yaping became the first Chinese woman to take a spacewalk, on Sunday (7), announced this Monday (8) the authorities of the Asian country. She is also the first woman to enter the new Chinese space station, Tiangong.
Wang and two other colleagues are on a 6-month mission to install and test the station. They were launched into space in October.
The astronaut and a colleague, Zhai Zhigang, left the station’s main module, Tianhe, on Sunday night, spending more than six hours outside installing equipment and performing tests alongside the station’s robotic service arm, according to the Manned Space Agency of China.
The third crew member, Ye Guangfu, an army pilot, helped from inside the station. The mission is scheduled to be the longest period in space for Chinese astronauts, who are the second crew to visit the permanent station. A previous team that visited Tiangong returned to Earth in September, after three months in the season.
Wang – who is a pilot and colonel in the Chinese army – and Zhai, a former combat pilot – had already traveled to China’s now-retired experimental space stations. Zhai led the country’s first spacewalk 13 years ago.
Astronaut Wang Yaping speaks at a meeting ahead of the launch of the Long March-2F Y13 rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft with three astronauts on China’s second manned mission to build its own space station at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in China on October 14 — Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
The Tianhe module – “harmony of the skies” in Chinese – entered orbit this year and should be operational in 2022. It will be connected next year to two more sections: the Mengtian (“dreaming of the skies) and Wentian (“ search for the heavens”).
When completed, the station will weigh about 66 tonnes – much smaller than the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and weighs around 450 tonnes.
Three spacewalks are planned to install the equipment in preparation for the station’s expansion. The crew will also assess living conditions in the Tianhe module and will conduct experiments in space medicine and other fields.
Chinese astronaut Wang Yaping adjusts his space helmet during training in Beijing in 2013. — Photo: Reuters
Tiangong is the latest in China’s effort to become a space power, after sending a vehicle to Mars and probes to the Moon.
The expectation is that Tiangong (“palace of heavens”, or “heavenly palace” in Chinese) will be ready next year. China’s military space program plans to send several crews to the station over the next two years to make it fully functional.