China takes first steps in space
Sunday, 28 September 2008

Reuters, Beijing- Astronaut Zhai Zhigang became the first Chinese man to walk in space on Saturday, clambering out of China's Shenzhou VII space craft in a technological feat that Beijing wants the world to marvel about.

"I'm feeling quite well. I greet the Chinese people and the people of the world," Zhai said as he climbed out of the craft, his historic achievement carried live on state television.
 
Zhai, the 41-year-old son of a snack-seller chosen for the first "extra-vehicular activity," unveiled a small Chinese flag, helped by colleague Liu Boming, who also briefly popped his head out of the capsule.
 
Zhai safely returned inside the craft after about 15 minutes. The walk marked the highpoint of China's third manned space journey, which has received blanket media coverage.
 
Zhai wore a $4.4 million Chinese-made suit weighing 120-kg. Liu wore a Russian-made one and acted as a back-up.
 
The risky manoeuvre is a step towards China's longer-term goal of assembling a space lab and then a larger space station.
 
The fast-growing Asian power wants to be sure of a say in how space and its potential resources are used.
 
China's Communist Party leaders are also celebrating the latest space mission, hailing the country's achievements in a year in which Beijing has staged a successful Olympics and coped with a devastating earthquake in Sichuan.
 
"On this flight, Chinese people's footprints will be left in space for the first time," stated a commentary by the official Xinhua news agency. "This will give the world yet something else to marvel about China in this extraordinary year of 2008."
 
The astronauts embarked on their walk after receiving a clean bill of health from doctors on the ground at mission control, Xinhua said.
 
Zhai's suit has 10 layers and takes up to 15 hours to assemble and put on.
 
China's first manned spaceflight was in 2003. A second, two-manned flight followed in 2005. The only other countries that have sent people into space are Russia and the United States.
 
Shenzhou VII took off on Thursday and is due to land on the northern steppes of Inner Mongolia on Sunday.
 
While out in space, Zhai will make tests and launch a football-sized "companion satellite" to monitor the walk and broadcast it back to Earth, where hundreds of millions of Chinese are likely to be glued to their televisions.

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