new equipment helps Chinese astronauts

As the outer airlock cabin opened, two crew members of the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft poked their heads out in their white spacesuits, and several tools then began to assist the walkers in the airlock.

Taikonauts Chen Dong and Liu Yang began their spacewalk on September 1 and completed all the extravehicular tasks assigned to them the next day at 00:33 (Beijing time). Lasting about six hours, it was the fifth spacewalk outside China’s space station and the first spacewalk for the new Wentian laboratory module.

Screenshot taken at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center of Shenzhou-14 astronauts Chen Dong (top) and Liu Yang performing extra-vehicular activities outside the space station’s Wentian Laboratory Module, Sept. 1, 2022. (Xinhua/Li Jie)

Assisted by taikonaut Cai Xuzhe inside the lab module, the duo performed a series of tasks, including installing the Wentian lab module’s extended pumping unit, lifting the lab module’s panoramic camera, and verifying the capability for independent transfer and emergency return to the spacecraft.

An easier way out

Compared to their predecessors, who exited the station’s central module, the Shenzhou-14 taikonauts exited into space from a larger doorway. According to the China Manned Space Agency, the diameter of the exit hatch of the central module is 0.85 meters, while that of the Wentian module reaches 1 meter, which allowed taikonauts wearing inflated space suits to pass more easily.

Pictures and video later provided by the space agency showed the two spacewalkers opening the module’s hatch and using a robotic arm to maneuver the equipment with Earth in the background.

A longer lifeline

One of the most vital pieces of equipment to keep astronauts from floating in space is a tether, which is the equivalent of a simple rope that connects their spacesuits to the spacecraft.

When Shenzhou-7 taikonaut Zhai Zhigang performed China’s first spacewalk in 2008, a one-meter fixed-length tether was his only lifeline.

For spacewalks on the space station, Chinese scientists have developed a new retractable steel cable that provides a secure connection of more than 10 meters between taikonauts and spacecraft. This lifeline can also withstand radiation, particles and a temperature difference of almost 200 degrees Celsius in space.

A smarter system

Thanks to two lamps outside the Wentian laboratory module, the Shenzhou-14 taikonauts performed extra-vehicle operations in a brighter environment than during previous missions.

In addition to guiding the wanderers through the darkness of the universe, the Wentian light system also provided them with favorable lighting conditions within.

Unlike Earth, taikonauts experience approximately 14 sunrises and sunsets each orbital day, which can cause shifts in their biological clocks, likely leading to sleep disturbances, fatigue, and reduced work efficiency. The lighting system allows them to control the internal lights via a mobile phone app, so they can switch the lights between sleep, work, exercise and other modes to avoid discomfort during their six-month flight.

China launched the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft on June 5. The crew performed tasks such as organizing cargo, testing equipment and conducting scientific experiments on the nation’s space station under construction.

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