Chinese astronauts recently embarked on a four-hour spacewalk to upgrade a module attached to the space station the country is assembling in low Earth orbit.
Two astronauts – or taikonauts, as they’re known in China – installed pumps, an emergency handle on an exterior door, and a device to fix astronauts’ feet to a robotic arm, the Associated Press reported.
The Sept. 17 spacewalk took place outside Wentian (Chinese for “Quest for the Heavens”), a laboratory module the country successfully docked to its new permanent space station this summer.
Spacewalkers Cai Xuzhe and Chen Dong were supported from inside by a third crew member, Liu Yang, who was also the first Chinese woman in space in 2012.
China hopes the space station, known as Tiangong (Chinese for “Heavenly Palace”), will replace the International Space Station, set to be decommissioned in 2031, according to the BBC.
No Chinese nationals have ever boarded the ISS, and a 2011 law banned cooperation between NASA and China without FBI and congressional authorization.
Tiangong’s final key element, a second lab, is planned to be launched and docked on the station by the end of October, according to Chinese state media.
Both the U.S. and China are gearing up for manned moon missions and installing bases on its south pole, according to AP.
NASA’s own moon program, Artemis, faced a setback in September when a fuel leak delayed the launch of its first unmanned rocket. NASA is now looking at a mid-November launch window, according to CNBC.
As the international presence in space intensifies, U.S. officials are monitoring the potential for satellite attacks, as well as falling behind in technology and exploitation of resources, according to AP.
A recent Pentagon report said “urgent action” is required to keep China from surpassing the U.S. in space, adding that the U.S. lacks a “long-term vision” and “a grand strategy for space.”