Chinese astronauts set record with spacewalk outside Tiangong station

Chinese astronauts set record with spacewalk outside Tiangong station

A pair of Chinese astronauts have completed a record-breaking spacewalk, spending 8.5 hours outside their country’s Tiangong space station.

Ye Guangfu and Li Guangsu’s spacewalk was the longest by Chinese astronauts, according to state news agency Xinhua. The previous record was eight hours.

The duo “completed the installation of the space station’s space debris protection device and the inspection of extravehicular equipment and facilities”, the China Manned Space Agency said in a statement on Tuesday.

The agency has been concerned about floating debris damaging the space station since Tiangong experienced a partial power loss after space junk struck its solar panels recently.

The two astronauts returned safely to their lab module aboard the space station after the trip outside, Xinhua reported.

They were assisted by a third astronaut, Li Cong, who closely monitored them and their activities from inside the station. Tiangong’s robotic arm and a team on Earth also lent a helping hand.

This was their first spacewalk as part of the six-month-long Shenzhou 18 mission which was launched in April.

“According to the plan, a large number of scientific experiments and technical tests as well as astronaut crew extravehicular activities and application payload extravehicular missions will be carried out during Shenzhou 18 manned flight mission,” the space agency said.

China built its own space station after it was excluded from the International Space Station, mainly due to concerns raised by the US over the Chinese Communist Party’s involvement in the programme.

The country conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, making it the third country after the former Soviet Union and the US to put a person in space using its own resources.

In recent years, China has executed several breakthrough space missions, including bringing samples back from the lunar surface for the first time in decades and landing a rover on the less explored far side of the moon.

So far, China’s space station astronauts have successfully carried out a total of 16 extravehicular activities, the technical term for spacewalks.

The first spacewalk by a Chinese astronaut was done by Zhai Zhigang in September 2008. It lasted about 20 minutes.