It was shorter than expected, 13 mins, but a spacewalk nonetheless, and the latest milestone in China’s fast advancing space program.
Astronaut Zhai Zhigang, floated out of Shenzhou 7′s orbital module on Saturday afternoon, and at one point waved a Chinese flag. Xinhua has lots of coverage, including pictures of Zhai and flag (How do you get a flag to wave in space, by the way?).
The next milestone is assembling a space station from two Shenzhou orbital modules. Then lunar exploration including putting a man on the moon, possibly ahead of the Americans’ planned return in 2020.
Saturday’s spacewalk was shown live on state TV and watched at a Beijing command center by top party officials, including President Hu Jintao.
The space program provides a patriotic diversion from the tainted milk scandal, which has taken some of the bloom off the glories of the Beijing Olympics ahead of what promises to be a contentious party plenum due to follow the Oct. 1 National Day celebrations. (I commend China Brief‘s curtain raiser on the meeting to those interested.)