BEIJING (AP) — The crew of China’s orbiting space station has completed the first of several planned spacewalks of their six-month mission, pushing those activities into the realm of routine for the country’s astronauts.
The China Manned Space Agency said that during Friday’s seven-hour extra-vehicular activity, Fei Junlong and Zhang Lu performed a number of tasks, including installing expansion pumps at the exterior of Mengtian’s lab module. The third member of the Shenzhou-15 mission, Deng Qingming, assisted from inside the station. The three are to complete several more spacewalks during their time aboard.
China has completed Tiangong Railway Station in November with the addition of the third of three modules, centered on the Tianhe life and command module.
China built its own station after being barred from the International Space Station, largely due to US objections to Chinese space programs’ intimate ties to the People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the ruling Communist Party. .
International security concerns around China were underscored last week when the The US military shot down an alleged Chinese military spy balloon which had drifted through the continental United States. China maintained that it was a civilian weather balloon that had veered off course.
Tiangong weighs about 66 tons, a fraction of the International Space Station’s 465 tons. It can accommodate up to six astronauts, but only three will be on board for each mission.
With a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, Tiangong could one day be the only space station still operational if the ISS retires towards the end of the decade as planned.
China in 2003 became the third government to send an astronaut alone into orbit after the former Soviet Union and the United States. It performed its first spacewalk in September 2008, and the pace of these activities has accelerated since the launch of the Tianhe module in 2021.
The country has also recorded unmanned mission successes: its Yutu-2 rover was the first to explore the little-known far side of the moon. Its Chang’e 5 probe also brought moon rocks back to Earth in December 2020 for the first time since the 1970s, and another Chinese rover is searching for evidence of life on Mars.
A possible crewed mission to the Moon is also under consideration, although no timetable has been offered.