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Chinese astronaut makes first ever space walk

BEIJING: A Chinese astronaut for the first time undertook a space walk today, heralding a 'great leap forward' for the Communist giant's ambitious space programme.

Mission commander Zhai Zhigang floated out of the orbital module of Shenzhou-7 this afternoon and remained outside for about 13 minutes before climbing back inside the module.

"Shenzhou-7 is now outside the spacecraft. I feel well. I am here greeting the Chinese people and people of the world," Xinhua news agency quoted the 42-year-old taikonaut as saying while reporting to the ground control in Beijing.

Liu Boming, a fellow astronaut, also emerged briefly from the capsule to hand Zhai a Chinese flag that he waved before the camera shooting the event.

Zhai also handed over a test sample of solid lubricant to Liu before starting his space walk.

The taikonaut, tethered to the spacecraft with two safety wires and a long "cord" providing oxygen and communications, moved slowly along a set of handrails around the spacecraft, the government-owned news agency said.

The success of China's manned space flight programme paves the way for building a space station from two Shenzhou orbital modules.

Yesterday, the three-module capsule shifted from an oval orbit to a more stable circular orbit 343 kilometres above the earth.

The space walk heralds a 'great leap forward' for the Communist nation in space technology, which western experts say is close to rivaling US and Russia.

It could pave the way for Beijing to attempt to build a space station as also a lunar landing.

The space walk was a high point of the Chinese space programme with the country having already launched three manned space missions. Chinese, after Russia and US, are the only third nation to achieve such a space success.

China launched its first manned mission Shenzhou-5 in 2003, followed by a two-manned mission in 2005.

In the Shenzhou-7 mission, the Chinese tested indigenous space suits as well as those imported from Russia. (PTI)

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