Shenzhou-12 Crews Successfully Performs First Space Walk Mission

Shenzhou 12 spacewalker Liu Boming positions himself to mount the end of a robotic arm outside of China’s space station (Source: CCTV)

According to the China Manned Space Engineering Office, on July 4th, after about 7 hours, Shenzhou-12 taikonauts worked closely together and successfully completed all the scheduled tasks during their extravehicular activities.

This is the second spacewalk carried out by Chinese astronauts in its space exploration history after the Shenzhou-7 manned space mission in 2008. During this operation, the extravehicular time was longer and the tasks more sophisticated. It is also the first spacewalk conducted during the construction of China’s space station.

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During the spacewalk, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo floated outside of the Tianhe core module to perform some of the tasks while Nie Haisheng stayed inside to support and assist when needed. The spacewalk mission was to set up a panoramic camera outside of the Tianhe cabin and to test the robotic arm for moving future modules of the space station.

One of the two astronauts performing the extravehicular activities needed to install an upper arm bracket, including a foot limiter, a tool table, etc., and then move with the assistance of the robotic arm. The other astronaut needed to crawl a certain distance to the operating point for auxiliary work with the help of the handrails installed on the bulkhead, during this procedure there will be an emergency return drill conducted.

“Because of the limited monitoring methods from Earth, astronauts in the space station need to communicate with astronauts conducting spacewalk by radio and send instructions to them.” Wang Yanlei, director of the training room of China Astronaut Center, said, “Should the astronauts outside of the station face any sort of risk, the astronauts inside of the station can press an emergency stop button and the mechanical arm will immediately stop.”

The crew got up at 3 am on the day to prepare for the spacewalk. In the face of high-intensity, long-term and uninterrupted operations, Yin Rui, deputy commander of the astronaut system of China’s manned spaceflight project, said, “our team designed special menus for the astronauts that fits the patterns of the extravehicular activities including spiced beef, nuts, chocolate and other food without generating much residue while eating.”

Astronauts Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo wear special spacesuits weighing 130 kg, but they can be adjusted to adapt to each astronaut’s body shape, complete with motorized joints and flexible materials, making the suits easier to work in. The spacesuits allow astronauts stay outside the space station for up to eight hours.

Zhang Wanxin, director of the Spacesuit Engineering Office of the China Astronaut Center and deputy chief designer of the astronaut system, said, “It takes 5 minutes to put on a spacesuit and 5 minutes to take it off. It requires strict timing. Subjects and astronauts usually need about 3 minutes.”

In order to ward off the various types of radiation in space, the spacesuit color is white but still has China’s own five-star red flag onits back. In addition, the astronauts can drink water through a bag that is built-in to the suits themselves.

Before entering the cabin, Liu Boming waved to salute, “I want to thank all the researchers who participated in the research and test phases, and to extend our gratitude to the strong support of the people of the entire country. We will continue to conduct spacewalks in the future, fly higher, and continue to increase the capacity of our space station.”

Since the Shenzhou-12 crew entered the Tianhe core module on June 17, all the work has been carried out as planned. At present, the three astronauts all are in good health, and they will have one more extravehicular activity in the future.