September 26, 2008

China: Shenzhou-7 Astronaut Getting Ready for Spacewalk

Text of report in English by official Chinese news agency Xinhua (New China News Agency)

BEIJING, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) - Astronaut aboard the Shenzhou-7 spacecraft, China's third manned spaceship, began to unpack and assemble the indigenous Feitian extra-vehicular activity (EVA) suit at 10:20 a.m. Friday in preparation for the first spacewalk.

As of 11:51 a.m., the spaceship which blasted off at 9:10 p.m. Thursday at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the northwestern Gansu Province, has made 11 orbits around the earth as scheduled.

Physical conditions of the three astronauts who are in duty shift, all stay normal.

Zhai Zhigang and Liu Boming took on assembling in the orbital module while Jing Haipeng stayed in the re-entry module to keep a eye on the vessel operation.

Feitian, which literally means flying the sky, has 10 layers and weighs about 120 kilograms. The domestically-made suit costs 30 million yuan (about 4.4 million US dollars), and takes up to 15 hours for astronaut to assemble and put on.

According to Wu Bin, director of the astronaut training research institute under the China Astronaut Training Centre, the astronauts have to unpack the suit which was fixed on the interiol wall of the orbital module. The unpacking procedure can be broken down to 12 steps, of which every step will be implemented with the help of the pincers.

After assembling, the replaceable parts including the purifier, oxygen bottle, batteries and remote control instruments will be installed on the suit.

The astronaut will have to adjust the size of the suit and test its obturation and functions after donning the suit. The procedure will be aided by another astronaut to ensure everything goes well, Wu said.

Since the astronaut will grew "fatter" after putting on the bulky suit, the re-entry module is built with an enlarged door of 850- millimeter-diameter, deputy chief designer of the spacecraft system Qi Yufeng told Xinhua.

A commander-in-chief post was for first time set up in the Shenzhou-7, which will be assigned to the No1 astronaut, who will walk into the space. He will be assisted during Saturday's spacewalk by the No 2 astronaut, who will stay in the orbital module during the process. The No 3 astronaut will stay in the re-entry module.

Yang Liwei, who piloted China's maiden space flight in 2003 has said the intensive psychological shock would be unavoidable for the Shenzhou-7 astronaut when he moved out of the capsule.

Since the operation was highly automatic, it was the psychological factor other than the manual operation that decided the success of the mission, Yang said.Psychology would affect the mission greatly notably when space walking, which was heavily relied on the astronaut's self-initiative.

The No 2 astronaut will wear a different space suit, the Orlan space suit provided by a Russian supplier.

According to a contract signed in April, 2004, a Russia company provides three Orlan suits, two low-pressure training suits, four suits for underwater training, and four sets of docking systems in the craft. The Chinese side is responsible for providing power and communications equipment for some of the EVA suits.

"The active collaboration of the two countries in areas like astronauts training and the development of spacecraft have boosted the advancement of China's manned space industry," Wang Zhaoyao, spokesman with China's manned space programme has said.

If Shenzhou-7 mission is successful, China will become the third country after United States and Russia to accomplish a spacewalk, a crucial capacity if China is to have its own permanent space station.

The space environment forecast centre under the China Academy of Sciences said Friday that the space environment was sound and safe for the spacewalk between Sept. 26-28.

Originally published by Xinhua news agency, Beijing, in English 0506 26 Sep 08.

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