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Chinese astronauts take 4-hour spacewalk outside new lab at Tiangong space station

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Two Chinese astronauts took four-hour spacewalk outside the country’s growing Tiangong station this weekend to work on its newest laboratory module, according to state media reports.

Astronauts Chen Dong and Cai Xuzhe of the China National Space Administration began their spacewalk Saturday (Sept. 17) at 1:35 a.m. EDT (0535 GMT or 1:35 p.m. Beijing time) outside the Tiangong space station and spent 4 hours and 12 minutes working on its new Wentian laboratory module, according to the state-run CCTV news channel (opens in new tab).

“With the aid of the small mechanical arm, astronauts Cai and Chen conducted a series of extravehicular tasks, including the installation of extravehicular assistance handles and the extended pump set of the load circuits. They also verified the extravehicular rescue capability,” CCTV wrote of the excursion. Chen is the commander of the station’s Shenzhou 14 mission.

Video: Chinese astronauts start testing new space station module

Chinese taikonauts conducted a spacewalk outside the Tiangong space station on Sept. 17, 2022. (Image credit: CCTV)The duo were assisted from inside the Tiangong space station by crewmate Liu Yang, who participated in an earlier spacewalk on Sept. 1, the first out of the Wentian module, with Chen two weeks ago. Yang also became China’s first female astronaut in 2012 during the Shenzhou 9 mission to the Tiangong 1 space laboratory.

The Shenzhou 14 crew has been configuring the newly arrived Wentian on the space station. China launched the Wentian module on July 24. It docked with the Tianhe core module of the Tiangong station a few hours later, doubling the station’s number of modules to two. 

Chinese officials have said Wentian’s addition will allow Tiangong to host as many as six people at a time. Shenzhou 14’s crew is expected to do the first-ever handover with Shenzhou 15 in December.

The Shenzhou 14 crew launched on June 3 with a mission to conduct construction on the space station, which is estimated at roughly 20% the mass of the much larger International Space Station (ISS), according to Chinese officials. China does not participate in ISS activities due to U.S. restrictions set by national policy-makers.

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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth’s on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada’s Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.

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