Wang Yaping becomes the first Chinese woman to walk in space

by Joseph Navin

On November 7, Chinese taikonauts Zhai Zhigang and Wang Yaping conducted the first spacewalk for the Shenzhou-13 mission at the Chinese Space Station. The extravehicular activity (EVA) was the first for a Chinese woman and successfully installed new hardware on the exterior of the Tianhe core module.

The extravehicular activity began when Wang Yaping and Zhai Zhigang exited the airlock, located on the zenith node on the Tianhe core module. During the extravehicular activity, Ye Guangfu remained inside the space station, where he monitored critical systems. The forward node on the Tianhe core module was used as the airlock.

Yaping’s historic spacewalk follows in the footsteps of other women who have walked in space. The first woman to walk in space was cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, who made her first spacewalk in 1984 while docked to the Salyut 7 space station during the Soyuz T-12 mission. The same year, Kathryn Sullivan became the first American woman to walk in space during the STS-41G mission.

Days prior to the spacewalk, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced that the Shenzhou-13 crew was preparing for a spacewalk, but did not provide a specific date.

The Shenzhou-13 crew also had their first emergency evacuation drill before this spacewalk. The spacewalk simulated an impact to the station and subsequent depressurization event, which required the crew to evacuate to the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft.

According to Chinese state media, the taikonauts were planning to install two devices during the extravehicular activity, which included a “suspension device” and a “robotic arm combination adapter” on the exterior of the Tianhe core module.

During the spacewalk, one of the taikonauts used the robotic manipulator arm to move around. This arm is similar to both the Canadarm used on the Space Shuttle and the Canadarm2 that is currently in use on the International Space Station.

This spacewalk featured a new spacesuit, worn by Wang Yaping, which was delivered to the station by the Tianzhou-3 cargo resupply craft in September. According to state media, this suit was optimized for Yaping’s shorter height. Zhigang’s suit was previously used by the Shenzhou-12 crew.

Both taikonauts were outside the station for approximately six hours. The spacewalk ended at 17:16 UTC or 01:16 Beijing time.

The Shenzhou-13 crew previously served as the backup crew for the Shenzhou-12 mission. Zhai Zhigang is the commander of the mission and was formerly a fighter pilot in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force selected in the first group of taikonauts. Zhigang previously flew on the Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008. He and Liu Boming became the first Chinese taikonauts to conduct an extravehicular activity during that mission.

Wang Yaping is the second Chinese woman to fly into space, behind Liu Yang in 2012. Yaping’s first mission to space was on the Shenzhou-10 mission in 2013. During the mission, the Shenzhou-10 crew docked to Tiangong-1, China’s first space station. The present-day Chinese Tianzhou cargo resupply craft is derived from the design of the Tiangong-1 space station.

The Shenzhou-13 crew on board the Chinese Space Station. Credit: China Science.

The Shenzhou-13 mission is the first for rookie taikonaut Ye Guangfu. Prior to the mission, he participated in a training event by the European Space Agency (ESA) called the Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behavior and performance Skills (CAVES) in an Italian cave in 2016.

All three of the crew members are in the People’s Liberation Army Astronaut Corps.

The crew launched to space on Shenzhou-13 on October 15 on a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, located in the Gobi Desert in China. The crew subsequently docked to the nadir docking node on the Tianhe core module later that same day.

This is the first long-duration mission for a crew on China’s new space station. The Shenzhou-13 crew is scheduled to be onboard the station until April 2022. Their long-duration stay is comparable in duration to Soyuz and Crew Dragon mission durations on the International Space Station.

The Tianhe core module first launched on April 29 on a Long March 5B from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center. In 2022, the station will expand with the additions of both the Wentian and Megtian modules. This expansion phase for the Chinese Space Station will occur during the Shenzhou-14 mission which will be the third crewed expedition to the station and the second long-duration stay.

(Lead image: A taikonaut from the Shenzhou-13 mission climbs out of the airlock on the Tianhe core module on November 7.)

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