Two Chinese astronauts headed outside the nation's Tiangong space station on Thursday (Feb. 9) for a seven-hour-long spacewalk, the first of the ongoing Shenzhou 15 mission.
Shenzhou 15 mission commander Fei Junlong and Zhang Lu exited the Wentian experiment module airlock in the early morning hours of Feb. 9 and returned inside at 11:16 a.m. EST (1616 GMT) after completing a series of tasks. The third Shenzhou 15 mission member, Deng Qingming, supported his crewmates from inside Tiangong.
The duo of Fei and Zhang installed external pumps outside Mengtian during the spacewalk, to aid the thermal control and function of the experiment module and the science apparatus mounted on its exterior.
Fei and Zhang also performed tasks related to Mengtian's payload airlock, which allows astronauts using the station's robotic arms to deploy science payloads and small satellites. Experiments were installed outside Mengtian using the airlock for the first time in January.
Mengtian launched in November last year, and its arrival at Tiangong marked the completion of the T-shaped orbital outpost.
China's human spaceflight agency announced that the extravehicular activity had taken place only after its completion. It did not provide a start time for the EVA. The agency had stated somewhat vaguely on Wednesday (Feb. 8) that the planned spacewalk would take place in the near future.
The three Shenzhou 15 crewmates launched to the Tiangong space station on Nov. 29 of last year and have now spent more than 70 days in orbit. They are expected to conduct two to three further EVAs during their six-month-long mission.
The arrival of Shenzhou 15 at Tiangong to join the Shenzhou 14 crew marked China's first crew handover and the start of the operational phase of the newly constructed space station. The country plans to keep the space station permanently crewed for at least a decade.