29 Sep 2008

Chinese astronaut makes historic space walk

11:29 am on 29 September 2008

Astronaut Zhai Zhigang became the first Chinese man to walk in space on Saturday, clambering out of the Shenzhou VII space craft in a technological feat that Beijing wants the world to marvel about.

"I'm feeling quite well. I greet the Chinese people and the people of the world," Zhai said as he climbed out of the craft, his historic achievement carried live on state television.

Mr Zhai, 41, unveiled a small Chinese flag, helped by colleague Liu Boming, who also briefly popped his head out of the capsule which is orbiting 340km above the Earth.

Mr Zhai safely returned inside the craft after about 15 minutes. The walk marked the highpoint of China's third manned space journey. He wore a $US4.4 million Chinese-made suit weighing 120kg, while Mr Liu wore a Russian-made one.

The mission is a step towards China's longer-term goal of assembling a space lab and then a larger space station. The fast-growing Asian power wants to be sure of a say in how space and its potential resources are used.

Shenzhou VII took off on Thursday and is due to land on the northern steppes of Inner Mongolia on Sunday.

While out in space, Zhai will make tests and launch a football-sized "companion satellite" to monitor the walk and broadcast it back to Earth, where hundreds of millions of Chinese are likely to be glued to their televisions.

China's first manned spaceflight was in 2003. A second, two-manned flight followed in 2005. The only other countries that have sent people into space are Russia and the United States.

The astronauts landed safely back on earth on Sunday after the 68-hour voyage.

Their spacecraft parachuted down to the steppes of northern Inner Mongolia region at dusk.