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Shenzhou is the name of the spaceship of the Chinese manned space program. Translated it means divine vessel. After initial tests (Shenzhou 1-4) Col. Yang Liwei was the first Chinese to be in space, which was aboard Shenzhou-5 in 2003. After Shenzhou-6, which was the first flight with two taikonauts, Shenzhou-7 will be the third manned Chinese mission.
Now let us have a look at the details of Shenzhou-7. The primary objective of this mission is to conduct a spacewalk. This will be the first time that China executes a spacewalk, also called extravehicular activity (EVA). Although many EVAs have been conducted by the U.S. and the USSR and Russia, respectively, each space faring nation needs to build up their own expertise in this field. In the case of China they had support from the Russians in the form of consultation for their space suit but they did build it on their own. The space suit that will be used during the mission is a home-made Chinese space suit.
So why do we need spacewalks and what will happen during the spacewalk? Spacewalks allow us to leave the space craft, which is necessary for inspections in case a spacecraft has suffered damage. Spacewalks have been used for repair missions on the Hubble space telescope as well as on the International Space Station (ISS) for inspections, repairs and in the building phase to add new parts.
In case of the Chinese spacewalk one of the taikonauts (term for Chinese space explorers), in this case Zhai Zhi Gang (42), will leave the spacecraft and conduct a spacewalk. The planned duration of the spacewalk is 30min. Due to the magnitude of this event the most time of the mission will be spent on the preparation for the spacewalk and test of the spacesuit. During the spacewalk Zhai will be secured with a tether that allows him to get back inside the spacecraft even in case of an emergency. In order to ensure safety, a second taikonaut will stay in the pressure chamber in case Zhai needs help. The fact that there is live television coverage of this event means that those who are responsible for it are very confident that absolutely nothing will go wrong.
Additionally to the spacewalk, which is the main challenge of this mission, there will be a couple of experiments that the Chinese will conduct during this flight. Further information about these experiments will be available after the mission, as is mainly the case due to the cloak of secrecy that constantly hovers above the Chinese space program.
- Nr. of taikonauts: 3
- Main Objectives: 1) spacewalk; 2) microgravity experiments 3) micro-satellite test
- Launch vehicle: Changzheng (Long March) 2-F
- Launch site: Jiuquan, north west China
- Challenges: successful conduction of spacewalk, first flight with 3 taikonauts
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