A pair of Chinese astronauts embarked on a six-hour-long spacewalk on Thursday (Sept. 1) to work on the outside of the new Wentian space station module.
Chen Dong, commander of the Shenzhou 14 mission, and Liu Yang, who became China’s first female astronaut in space in 2012, opened the hatch of the new Wentian module at 6:26 a.m. EDT (1026 GMT) and both had exited the Tiangong space station by 7:09 a.m. EDT (1109 GMT).
“Wow, it’s amazing how close the Earth is. It is overwhelming,” Chen said while waving in space. “Hello, everyone. I’m out of the module. I’m feeling good.”
Chen and Liu completed a series of tasks, including installing the extended pump set of the Wentian lab module which play a role in the station’s thermal control system, raising a panoramic camera attached outside Wentian module to provide a large field of view, and testing capabilities and procedures for an emergency return to the space station.
The pair were assisted from inside the Tiangong space station by crewmate Cai Xuzhe. Wentian’s 17-foot-long (5 meters) remotely controlled robotic arm also assisted the operations
The astronauts completed their activities by 12:33 p.m. EDT (1633 GMT), according to China’s human spaceflight agency.
“I want to thank my teammates for their help, all technical staff for their support and all people in China for their care and concern,” Liu said after completing the planned tasks. “This step forward is the result of joint efforts of people both on the ground and in space.”
China launched the Wentian experiment module in July. It joined the Tianhe core module and the crew of the Shenzhou 14 mission in orbit and is the second of three modules that will make up the completed space station.
Thursday’s extravehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalk, is the first to use the new, larger airlock on the Wentian module. Earlier Tiangong spacewalks conducted by the Shenzhou 12 and Shenzhou 13 mission astronauts used the docking hub on Tianhe — to which Wentian is now attached — as an airlock.
Other capabilities on Wentian include a number of science racks for use by astronauts to conduct a range of experiments in microgravity and 22 payload adapters on the exterior for hosting Chinese and international experiments.
The Shenzhou 14 crew have been in space since June 5. They are soon expected to use Wentian to host a live science lecture for students back on Earth.
China is currently preparing for the launch of Mengtian, the third and final module for Tiangong. The 58.7-foot-long (17.9 m) and roughly 48,500 pounds (22 metric tons) module arrived at the Wenchang spaceport in early August and is scheduled to launch in October.
The mission will be China’s third module launch in less than 18 months and will complete the T-shaped Tiangong space station. The country has also launched a host of cargo missions to support the growing laboratory.
The completed Tiangong space station, with visiting cargo and Shenzhou crewed spacecraft docked to it, will be around 20% as massive as the International Space Station, which here on Earth would weigh about 460 tons (420 metric tons).