Chinese astronauts conduct their first spacewalk outside the new station

BEIJING – Two astronauts carried out the first spacewalk on Sunday outside China’s new orbital station to work on setting up a 15-meter-long robotic arm.

Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo were shown by State TV exiting the airlock as Earth passed under them. The third crew member, Commander Nie Haisheng, remained inside.

The astronauts arrived on June 17 for a three-month mission aboard China’s Third Orbital Station, as part of an ambitious space program that landed a robot rover on Mars in May. Their mission comes as the ruling Communist Party celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding.

The station’s first mod, Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, launched on April 29. This was followed by an automated spaceship with food and fuel. Liu, Nie and Tang arrived on June 17 aboard a capsule from Shenzhou.

On Sunday, Liu and Tang completed the installation of a robotic arm that will be used to assemble the rest of the station, according to state media. State TV said their spacesuits were designed to allow them to work in the vacuum of space for up to six hours if necessary.

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The space agency plans a total of 11 launches until the end of next year to add two more modules to the 70-ton station.

Liu is a veteran of the 2008 Shenzhou 7 mission, in which Zhai Zhigang carried out China’s first spacewalk. Nie is on his third trip to space while Liu is on his first. All are military pilots.

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