BEIJING – A Chinese astronaut stepped outside the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft Saturday and waved a small red China flag at the millions of his countrymen watching on live television and cheering at their nation’s latest conquest.
With the 15-minute spacewalk, China became the third country to accomplish the feat, following the United States and Russia.
“In the vast space, I felt proud of our motherland,” astronaut Zhai Zhigang told Chinese President Hu Jintao later over a telephone connecting the spacecraft with a control center in Beijing. Hu peppered the astronaut with questions about how it felt to be in space, and thanked him for the success of the mission.
During the spacewalk, the astronaut performed some tests on lubricants, but the event seemed to be as much about public relations as science.
The spacewalk was the highlight of Shenzhou 7’s 68-hour mission and took place late Saturday afternoon Beijing time. Many people gathered around large screens, at times cheering proudly, “Jia you!” – literally “add oil” – the same cheer used at the last month’s Olympics and other sporting events.