Astronauts set for first space walk in 2008
By Zhao Huanxin (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-03-06 05:39
China's first space walk mission is now being scheduled for 2008, according
to a top aerospace official.
The success of Shenzhou VI, which was launched last October with two
astronauts orbiting the earth for five days, prompted speculation that China
would launch Shenzhou VII to stage its first space walk next year.
But Zhang Qingwei, deputy chief commander of China's Manned Space Programme,
told China Daily in an exclusive interview yesterday that safety and
reliability, rather than time, was the priority for the launch.
Haisheng (R) talks to journalists after he and Fei Junlong got out of the
re-entry capsule of the Shenzhou VI spacecaft at the main landing field in
Central Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Monday morning October 17, 2005.
The module landed 4:33 A.M. after a five-day flight.
He spoke to China Daily while attending the annual meeting of the National
People's Congress, which opened yesterday in Beijing.
"We are carrying out a host of experiments centred on extra-vehicular
activities of Shenzhou VII, which will carry three astronauts," said Zhang, also
president of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp,
In preparation for the spaceflight, Chinese scientists are building a "water
pool" and a weightless environment facility to train astronauts for
extra-vehicular activities, Zhang said.
Usually, mission specialists receive extra-vehicular activity training in a
large water pool, wearing a simulated space suit, according to space experts.
It will take some time for the country to complete various tests and trials,
including those on space suits for a space walk, to ensure its third spaceflight
is a success, Zhang said.
"To secure the reliability (of the technological changes to be made for
Shenzhou spacecraft) as well as safety of astronauts, it is worthwhile for us to
spend more time ... and readjust our initial plans," he said.
The spacecraft is no different in terms of size and shape when compared with
Shenzhou VI, which was launched last October, Zhang said.
Zhang said that the Shenzhou VII will probably be launched sometime in 2008.
Huang Chunping, a chief consultant for China's manned launching vehicle
system, echoed Zhang's remarks, saying that he expected the mission will be
conducted in the second half of 2008.
He told China Daily it would give them sufficient time to improve space suits
and the orbital module of the spacecraft. The improvements are expected to be
completed next year.
Both Huang and Zhang stressed that China is well capable of making full
preparations for the space walk.
They did not specify how many days the Shenzhou VII voyage will last.
All the three astronauts to fly Shenzhou VII will be selected from the same
pool of 14 fighter-jet-turned pilots from which China's first three astronauts
Yang Liwei, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng were chosen.
Although there will be no on-board engineers on Shenzhou VII, the country's
subsequent space flights will increasingly involve such scientists, Zhang said.
"After we have tackled technologies regarding extra-vehicular activities and
the docking of a manned craft with an orbital capsule, we will need many
on-board scientists (for future space flights)," he said.
The official said earlier that with the development of China's manned space
programme, the country will increase scientific research in orbit.
Scientists, including female experts, specializing in medicine, new
materials, biology and other disciplines will all have the chance to work
alongside astronauts, he said.
China carried out its maiden piloted space flight in October 2003, making the
country the third in the world following the former Soviet Union and the United
States to have put men into space.
(China Daily 03/06/2006 page3)