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President Hu congratulates Chinese taikonauts
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Hu Jintao

Chinese President Hu Jintao talks with the trio taikonauts from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center for the Shenzhou-7 mission at 6:35 p.m. Saturday, when he inquires the physical conditions of the three taikonauts. [Xinhua] 

Chinese taikonaut Zhai Zhigang completed a spacewalk Saturday afternoon, marking a remarkable progress in the country's ambitious space program, which will eventually lead to the establishment of a permanent space station.

Shenzhou-7 also launched a small monitoring satellite about two hours after an astronaut accomplished the country's first spacewalk.

The spacewalk marks a major breakthrough in China's space program, Chinese President Hu Jintao said.

Hu talked with the trio taikonauts from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center for the Shenzhou-7 mission at 6:35 p.m. Saturday, when he inquired the physical conditions of the three taikonauts.

"How did you feel like in space after exiting the module?" asked smiling Hu.

"I felt superb," answered Zhai Zhigang, who carried out about 25 minutes of extra-vehicular activity (EVA) about 343 km above the earth after floating out of the Shenzhou-7 cabin.

"The process of taking on the Feitian spacesuit went smooth," said Zhai, looking confident and radiant on the screen at the BACC. "In the vast space, I felt proud of our motherland."

Hu congratulated the astronauts on the successful feat and encouraged them to carry on efforts to fulfill the mission.

"The thing I most want to know is how are you feeling now and how is your work going," Hu asked the trio.

The trio taikonauts answer President Hu Jintao's questions about the Shenzhou-7 mission at 6:35 p.m. Saturday after they completed the first spacewalk in Chinese history. [Xinhua]  

"We feel well," said Zhai. "We conducted the space scientific tests as planned and the EVA went smoothly."

Hu hailed the spacewalk as a sign of the country's progress in space scientific technology.

"You have made outstanding contribution to our country's space project," said Hu. "The country and the Chinese people are grateful to you."

Zhai Zhigang was assisted during the spacewalk by Liu Boming in the orbit module. China is the third country in the world to accomplish the feat after the United States and Russia.

Donning a 4-million-U.S.dollar homemade Feitian space suit, Zhai slipped out of the orbital module of Shenzhou-7 in a head-out-first position at 4:43 p.m. (0843 GMT).

He waved to the camera mounted on the service module after pulling himself out of the capsule, video monitor at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) showed.

"Shenzhou-7 is now outside the spacecraft. I feel well. I am here greeting the Chinese people and people of the whole world," the taikonaut reported to the ground control in Beijing, where Chinese President Hu Jintao watched the live transmission of the proceedings along with country's top space scientists.

Zhai, who is having his 42th birthday next month, was an air force pilot before getting enrolled in the manned space program. He grew up in dirt-poor hardship with five siblings in the country's far northeast.

Chinese taikonaut Zhai Zhigang slipped out of the orbital module of Shenzhou-7 Saturday afternoon, starting China's first spacewalk or extravehicular activity (EVA) in the outer space.

Taikonaut Zhai Zhigang conducts China's maiden spacewalk on September 27, 2008. [Xinhua]

Minutes after Zhai was outside the capsule, teammate Liu Boming also emerged from the orbital module hatch and handed Zhai a Chinese national flag that Zhai waved in the outer space. Their third crew member, Jing Haipeng, monitored the ship from inside the re-entry module.

Video monitor at the ground control showed Zhai then slowly leaned towards a test sample of solid lubricant placed outside the orbital module. He took the sample and handed it over to Liu.

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