Chinese astronauts walk in space outside the new station for the first time

BEIJING (AFP) – Two astronauts on Sunday made their first spacewalk outside China’s new orbital station to work on a 15-meter-long robotic arm.

On state TV, Liu Beoming and Tang Hongbo jumped from the airlock as the ground rolled from under them. The third crew member, Commander Nie Haisheng, remained inside.

The astronauts arrived on June 17 for a three-month mission aboard China’s third orbital station, part of an ambitious space program that saw a robotic rover land on Mars in May. Their mission comes as the ruling Communist Party celebrates its centenary.

The station’s first unit, Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, was launched on April 29. This was followed by a robotic spacecraft equipped with food and fuel. Liu Weni and Tang arrived aboard the Shenzhou capsule on June 17.

According to state media, Liu and Tang completed the installation of a robotic arm that will be used to assemble the rest of the station on Sunday. State television said their space suits are designed so that they can work in the vacuum of space for up to six hours if necessary.

The space agency is planning a total of 11 launches through the end of next year to add two more units to the 70-tonne station.

Liu is a veteran of the 2008 Shenzhou 7 mission, in which Zhai Zhigang made the first spaceflight to China. Ne makes his third trip into space, while Leo makes his first. They are all military pilots.

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