Astronaut Fei Junlong on a trip into space
Photo: Liu Fang/Xinhua/IMAGO
The crew of China's Tiangong space station has completed the first spacewalk of its six-month mission.
Astronauts Fei Junlong and Zhang Lu completed a variety of tasks during the seven-hour spacewalk, including installing expansion pumps outside of a laboratory module, according to the China Manned Space Agency.
The third member of the Shenzhou 15 Mission, Deng Qingming, assisted from inside the station.
The three are scheduled to perform several more spacewalks during their time on board.
China completed the Tiangong station in November and installed the last of three modules.
The center of the »Heavenly Palace« is the living and command module »Tianhe«.
The Chinese space station weighs about 66 tons — a fraction of the 465-ton International Space Station, humanity's second permanently habitable outpost in space.
"Tiangong" can accommodate up to six astronauts, but only three of them will be on board per mission.
With a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, it could one day be the only space station still in operation when the ISS is decommissioned later in the decade, as expected.
China's reach into space
For its ambitious goals, the People's Republic has invested billions in the space program.
The country built its own space station after being banned from the ISS;
this came largely because of US objections to the close ties of China's space program to the country's army.
In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into Earth orbit, after the former Soviet Union and the United States.
The first spacewalk was conducted by Shenzhou 7 in September 2008.
China is already successfully operating a reconnaissance vehicle on Mars.
The country retrieved rock from the moon with the »Chang'e 5« probe and was the first nation to land a spaceship on the far side of the moon.
An eventual manned mission to the moon is also being considered, although no timetable has been given.
SpaceX celebrates successful test
The private US aerospace company SpaceX has also taken an important step forward.
According to the company, almost all engines of the first stage of its "Starship" rocket were successfully ignited in a test on Thursday for the first time.
The first orbital flight could now follow in March.
Although the SpaceX team had to shut down one engine shortly before the test and another shut down automatically, 31 engines fired, explained SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
"That's enough to reach orbit."
As the engines burned for a few seconds, the first stage of the Starship rocket was engulfed in huge plumes of orange flame and smoke.
The 69 meter high Booster Super Heavy was firmly fixed to the ground to prevent it from taking off.
According to SpaceX, the test at the Texas site took exactly as long as planned.
In addition to its first stage, the most powerful rocket in space history to date consists of the reusable spacecraft, which has already completed several test flights - albeit some of which ended in explosions.
The US space agency Nasa is currently planning to use "Starship" as a landing module as part of its Artemis program in 2025 at the earliest.
"Starship" is significantly larger and more powerful than the NASA rocket SLS, with which the space agency wants to put astronauts into orbit around the moon from 2024.