Caution sets Chinese attempt apart from more casual Soviet and US adventures

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 September, 2008, 12:00am

China is the first country to perform its maiden spacewalk live on television, thanks to the scientific and technological advances in the past four decades.

But the first Chinese spacewalk has demonstrated much less spontaneity than the first missions carried out by the former Soviet Union and the US astronauts, echoing what some experts said were 'Chinese characteristics'.

Colonel Zhai Zhigang , typically for an officer of the People's Liberation Army, took every step under instructions from ground command.

Throughout the mission, he stayed within a diameter of 50cm of the hatch of the space module and lingered for no more than a second after receiving the order to return.

Even in his conversation with President Hu Jintao later, he seemed to be reading from a script.

Contrary to the near perfection of the first Chinese spacewalk, the first attempts by the Soviet Union and the United States were full of uncertainties.

Russian astronaut Alexei Leonov, the world's first spacewalker, described his historic endeavour as a monumental but also harrowing experience, according to the Nasa History Office. As soon as Colonel Leonov got out of the spacecraft, he found his spacesuit had become inflated.

He could not move around easily and he could not even reach the camera on his chest.

When he returned, he violated his orders from mission command and entered the hatch head first, causing him to get stuck midway.

He had to release some of the air in his spacesuit to eventually return to the cabin. When he was out of the spacesuit, he had sweated profusely and found himself almost on the verge of a heart attack.

Edward White, the first American spacewalker, also ignored ground command's caution and drifted more than 20 metres from the spacecraft.

He also intentionally threw away his heat resistant gloves and the sun visor on his face plate.

And he asked to stay longer in space, saying that his spacewalk was the most comfortable experience of his entire mission.