More than a year before China's third manned space mission, Chinese astronauts have begun training for their first spacewalk during the Shenzhou VII space flight mission.
"As it's the first time that our astronauts will leave their capsule in space, the mission requires even higher physical, technical and psychological standards, so training is more intense than ever," said Yang Liwei, the first Chinese astronaut in space, who is also deputy director of the China Astronaut Research and Training Center.
China launched its manned space program in 1999. It successfully sent Yang into orbit on the Shenzhou V spacecraft in 2003, and two years later, astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng completed a five-day flight on the Shenzhou VI.
The Shenzhou VII is expected to carry three astronauts in 2008. Yang said the astronauts would perform work outside the capsule such as installing equipment and "tightening screws".
China has a 14-strong astronaut team. The members, including Yang himself, spend five days a week training and only go home at weekends.
Tian Liping, deputy head of astronaut selection and training, said, "We have been conducting preparatory training since 2006, and the training now mainly is on out-of-capsule activities, such the construction of the out-of-capsule space suit and dealing with the emergencies during spacewalks."
The astronauts had been training in the out-of-capsule space suit since July.
Yang, who has tried on China's self-developed out-of- capsule space suit, said, "The special equipment is really a challenge."
Tian said movement is seriously restricted in the suit, which weighed more than 110 kilograms.
"Even picking up a piece of paper while dressed in the suit in a zero-gravity environment would be a mission impossible for the astronauts if they had not undergone long training," said Tian.
As the Shenzhou VII mission is more risky than previous missions, the astronauts have also received psychological training on how to operate under severe pressure, said Tian.