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Chinese Taikonaut Greets Nation, World in 1st Spacewalk

Chinese taikonaut Zhai Zhigang slipped out of the orbital module of Shenzhou-7 on Saturday afternoon, starting China's first spacewalk or extravehicular activity (EVA) in the outer space.

"Shenzhou-7 is now outside the spacecraft. I feel well. I am here greeting the Chinese people and people of the whole world," the taikonaut reported to the ground control in Beijing, where Chinese President Hu Jintao watched the proceedings with country's top space scientists.

Donning a US$4 million homemade Feitian space suit, Zhai waved to the camera mounted on the service module after pulling himself out of the capsule in a head-out-first position at 4:43 PM (0843 GMT), video monitor at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) showed.

Zhai, who is having his 42th birthday next month, was an air force pilot before getting enrolled in the manned space program. He grew up in dirt-poor hardship with five siblings in the country's far northeast.

Minutes after Zhai was outside the capsule, teammate Liu Boming also emerged from the orbital module hatch and handed Zhai a Chinese national flag that Zhai waved in the outer space. Their third crew member, Jing Haipeng, monitored the ship from inside the re-entry module.

Video monitor at the ground control showed Zhai then slowly leaned towards a test sample of solid lubricant placed outside the orbital module. He took the sample and handed it over to Liu.

Solid lubricant is widely used in spacecraft. The test sample carried by Shenzhou-7 include 11 types of solid lubricants. Chinese scientists hoped to improve the property and lifetime of the materials by studying the samples.

After the handover, Zhai, who dreamed of flying into space when he was an impoverished teenager, started the core part of the space adventure, spacewalk.

The taikonaut, tethered to the spacecraft with two safety wires and a long electric cord providing oxygen and communications, moved slowly along a set of handrails around the orbital module.

Zhai "walked step by step" by shifting the wire hooks connecting him and the spacecraft, in an televised event watched by millions of Chinese and met with applauses and cheers by crowds before downtown outdoor screens and office television sets.

Sixteen minutes after Zhai's spacewalk, the taikonaut returned to the orbital module in a foot-in-first position, marking a complete success of China's first attempt at space walk.

The historical moment was witnessed by tens of millions of Chinese with bated breath, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, who was present at the Beijing control center.

The success makes China the third to master the EVA technology following the United States and Russia.

Performing a successful spacewalk is a key step in mastering docking techniques, technology that is needed for the establishment of a space station.

After leak check by the ground control, Zhai and Liu turned off the depressurizing valve and started repressurizing the orbital module. They also adjusted their EVA spacesuits to the intra-capsule condition.

The Shenzhou-7 spacecraft took off from northwest China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 9:10 PM on Thursday, and is scheduled to land on the Inner Mongolia steppe on Sunday.

(Xinhua News Agency September 27, 2008)

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- Official: Taikonaut Zhai Zhigang to Perform China's 1st Spacewalk
- Taikonauts Prepare for Spacewalk in Orbital Module

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