BEIJING, Sept. 17 -- Zhai Zhigang, a reserve for the
Shenzhou V and VI missions, is poised to become China's first spacewalker,
reports have said.
Three 42-year-old astronauts - Zhai Zhigang, Liu
Boming and Jing Haipeng - have been selected to carry out the country's third
manned space mission, which will last from Sept 25-28, according to
The most likely takeoff time for Shenzhou VII is 9:10
pm on Sept 25, the website said.
Shenzhou freshman Chen Quan leads the backup crew,
which also includes Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng. Fei and Nie were both onboard
Shenzhou VI three years ago.
Upon the spaceship's entry into orbit a scheduled 582
seconds after liftoff, Jing will remain in the descent module while Zhai and Liu
will move to the vacuum orbital module. Zhai is expected to conduct a 40-minute
spacewalk between Sept 26 and Sept 27, with Liu as his substitute.
As part of the session, Zhai will retrieve an
undisclosed amount of "solid lubrication material" placed beside the gate of the
orbital module. Before he does that, Liu will help him put on a special
spacesuit that weighs in at about 120 kg and is worth 100 million yuan ($14.6
Zhai, a native of Heilongjiang province, will hold a
private space-to-Earth conversation with his family during the mission,
Astronaut Center of China (ACC) director Chen Shanguang said earlier during a
briefing at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province.
The ranking of all six members of the crew has
remained unchanged after successive physical and psychological tests by an
expert panel that monitored, logged and reviewed their status around the clock,
"That means the men we've selected are the most
qualified for the task," he said.
Despite worries of airsickness, the preferred
schedule for Zhai's spacewalk has been pushed forward to the end of his second
day in space, Chen said.
The international routine is to spacewalk during an
astronauts' third or fourth day in space.
All six members of the Shenzhou VII mission belong to
China's first generation of 14 astronaut candidates, selected in 1998.
"All of them are at least 40 years old now after this
mission, we will arrange for some of the astronauts' retirement or work
transfers," Chen said.
The Shenzhou VIII and IX next year may well be
farewell missions for China's first generation astronauts, sources with the ACC
Recent media reports have said plans for selecting a
second group of Shenzhou astronauts - up to 14 people - are well under way.
Chen said everything is well prepared and that he
will strive with all he has to draft new astronauts "once the announcement is
While there are no specific plans to find a female
astronaut, Chen said the ACC is engaged in relevant "technical preparations".
Scientists have promised a record-high safety index
of 0.997, which means that for every 1,000 missions, 997 astronauts will return
(Source: China Daily)