Astronauts (from left) Ye Guangfu, Wang Yaping and Zhai Zhigang wave at a departure ceremony before their launch on the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft, at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre. — AFP pic

Astronaut becomes first Chinese woman to spacewalk

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BEIJING, Nov 8 — Astronaut Wang Yaping became the first Chinese woman to walk in space, authorities said Monday, as her team completed a six-hour stint outside the Tiangong space station as part of its ongoing construction.

Tiangong — meaning “heavenly palace” — is the latest achievement in China’s drive to become a major space power, after landing a rover on Mars and sending probes to the Moon.

Its core module entered orbit earlier this year, with the station expected to be operational by 2022. 

Wang and her colleague Zhai Zhigang stepped out of the module on Sunday night — waving to the camera while tethered to the outside of the station — and installed a suspension device and transfer connectors. 

“This marks the first extravehicular activity of the Shenzhou-13 crew, and it is also the first in China’s space history involving the participation of a woman astronaut,” said the China Manned Space Agency in a statement early Monday.

“The whole process was smooth and successful,” the agency added, declaring it finished.

Tiangong is expected to operate for at least 10 years, and the three astronauts are the second group to stay there. Wang is the first woman to visit. 

Mission commander Zhai is a former fighter pilot who performed China’s first spacewalk in 2008. 

Sunday’s operation came just weeks after Wang, Zhai and third team member Ye Guangfu blasted off from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwestern China’s Gobi desert.

Ye, who stayed inside during the walk to support his crewmates, is a People’s Liberation Army pilot.

Their work involves setting up equipment and testing technology for future construction, with at least one more spacewalk planned.

The team is expected to spend six months at the station.

The previous record-breaking crew, who made the first mission to Tiangong, returned to Earth in September after spending three months there. — AFP

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