China launches manned spacecraft on spacewalk mission (Lead)

September 25th, 2008 - 9:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Jiquan (China), Sep 25 (Xinhua) China launched Friday a manned spacecraft carrying three astronauts on its first-ever spacewalk mission.The spacecraft Shenzhou VII blasted off from the Jiuquan space centre in the northwestern province of Gansu at about 9:10 p.m. onboard a Long March-2F carrier rocket.

Onboard pilots Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng are expected to orbit the earth for three days, when one of them will float out of the cabin about 343 km above the earth Friday.

After the scheduled spacewalk, China will become the third country in the world being able to conduct extravehicular activity (EVA) in space following the former Soviet Union and the US.

President Hu Jintao watched the historic moment at the launch centre, joined by Chinese experts and other work staff.

Hu briefly met the three astronauts before they entered the spacecraft Thursday afternoon, wishing them “a complete success in this glorious and sacred mission”.

“During the mission, you will carry out China’s EVA with homemade EVA space suit, which is a great leap for China’s space technology,” said Hu.

Two astronauts would enter the orbital module, where one would put on domestically-made spacesuit Feitian and leave the module to take back test samples loaded outside, said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the country’s manned space project.

The other would wear a Russian Orlan suit and stay in the depressurised cabin for support, said Zhou.

“We wish we could fly freely in space just like Feitian on the ancient Buddhist murals, so we gave this name to the homemade spacesuit,” said Zhou.

Feitian, which literally means flying in the sky, is the name of a legendary Buddhist goddess.

Other tasks of the Shenzhou-VII crew include the release of a small monitoring satellite and a trial of the data relay of the satellite Tianlian-I.

If successful, the mission would be of great significance to the country’s future plans to build a space lab and a space station, said Zhang Jianqi, deputy chief commander of the manned space project.

“China pursues the principle of making peaceful use of space in its exploration and development,” Zhang told Xinhua, saying the country was willing to carry out various forms of international cooperation in space exploration.

The astronauts, all 42, are scheduled to land in the central region of north China’s Mongolia autonomous region in a re-entry module after their mission is completed.

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