Beijing, we have lift-off

After the Olympics, China's first space walk marks another milestone in the rise of a new superpower

Securely attached to his capsule high above the world, mission commander Zhai Zhigang waved the red flag yesterday to mark China's first space walk and celebrate the latest milestone in his nation's astonishing rise.

"I'm feeling quite well. I greet the Chinese people and the people of the world," said the 41-year-old taikonaut as he floated out of Shenzhou VII's orbital module and began his 13-minute manoeuvre in space. Just like the Olympics in August, the space walk is a powerful symbol of how China has emerged as an Asian superpower, and underlines its technological ambitions.

Colonel Zhai's feat was watched by hundreds of millions of Chinese live on the state broadcaster CCTV. For the country's Communist rulers, the mission has provided a welcome distraction from the tainted-milk scandal at home, which has killed four infants and made tens of thousands ill.

Colonel Zhai spent the day before the space walk assembling and putting on his space suit, which has 10 layers and takes up to 15 hours to prepare. His colleague, Liu Boming, popped his hugely helmeted head out to hand him a Chinese flag to wave for the camera filming the event. The third crewman, Jing Haipeng, monitored the ship from inside the re-entry module. Colonel Zhai retrieved a sample of solid lubricant attached to the outside of the space vehicle before climbing slowly back into the capsule.

China's first manned spaceflight was in 2003, with a second, two-man flight in 2005. The next target is to build a space station, and there are plans to land a man on the moon in the next decade. The only other countries that have sent people into space are Russia and the US – a token of China's rapid progress is that the Shenzhou VII mission comes just three days before the 50th anniversary of the US space agency, Nasa.

"On this flight, Chinese people's footprints will be left in space for the first time. This will give the world yet something else to marvel about China in this extraordinary year of 2008," ran a commentary by the official Xinhua news agency.

However, the Chinese tendency to stage-manage the finest details of an event led to embarrassment ahead of Thursday's launch. Xinhua posted a story hours before Shenzhou VII lifted off, saying the capsule was being successfully tracked over the Pacific Ocean. The story, ostensibly filed from one of the ships tracking the spacecraft, had a 27 September dateline and even quoted the crew of the spacecraft saying cabin and oxygen pressure were normal.

The taikonauts, who will spend a total of 68 hours in orbit, are scheduled to land on the Inner Mongolian steppe today, Xinhua said. In orbit, they have been able to choose from some 80 different dishes, including spicy kung pao chicken, which seems to be a favourite with Chinese space travellers. To no one's surprise, there was no milk on the menu.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss