Chinese astronauts perform record-breaking spacewalk outside Tiangong space station (video)

Two Chinese astronauts just set a new spacewalking record for the country.

Ye Guangfu and Li Guangsu, two members of China's three-person Shenzhou 18 mission, spent about 8.5 hours working outside the Tiangong space station today (May 28). 

That's longer than any previous Chinese spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA), according to the nation's state-run Xinhua news service.

Related: 1,000 days in space! Core module of China's Tiangong space station hits milestone

Chinese astronauts conduct the Shenzhou 18 mission's first spacewalk, on May 28, 2024. The excursion lasted about 8.5 hours, setting a new duration record for the nation. (Image credit: CMSA)

Ye and Li "completed the installation of the space station's space debris protection device and the inspection of extravehicular equipment and facilities," officials with the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) wrote in an update today. (Translation via Google.)

Space junk is a genuine worry for Chinese space officials; Tiangong suffered a partial power loss recently after a debris strike on its solar arrays, for example.

Today's EVA was the first for Li and the second for Ye, who also stepped outside Tiangong during the Shenzhou 13 mission in December 2021. The third member of the Shenzhou 18 mission, Li Cong, assisted the EVA from inside Tiangong, monitoring the spacewalkers and their activities.

The spacewalkers installed space-debris protection gear outside the Tiangong space station, among other tasks. (Image credit: CMSA)

This was the first EVA for the six-month-long Shenzhou 18 mission, which launched to Tiangong in late April. China's previous crewed flight, Shenzhou 17, performed two spacewalks outside Tiangong. Shenzhou 15 set the nation's single-mission mark with four EVAs.

Shenzhou 18 may be similarly active. "According to the plan, a large number of scientific experiments and technical tests, as well as astronaut crew extravehicular activities and application payload extravehicular missions, will be carried out during the Shenzhou 18 manned flight mission," CMSA officials wrote in today's update.

Chinese astronauts have now conducted a total of 16 spacewalks to date, according to Xinhua. The nation's first EVA occurred on Sept. 27, 2008, when Zhai Zhigang ventured outside his Shenzhou 7 capsule for about 20 minutes.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.