by Xinhua writers Wang Chenxi and Li Guoli
JIUQUAN, Oct. 15 (Xinhua) -- China is all set to launch Shenzhou-13 manned spaceship on Saturday, with the country's first spacewalker Zhai Zhigang as one of the three crew members.
Struggling to open the door, waving to the camera, holding up the national flag, handing the test sample to his colleague and hobbling back to the module...the images from September 2008 are still fresh when Zhai completed China's first spacewalk during the Shenzhou-7 mission.
His 20-minute stay in outer space was broadcast live as millions of Chinese on Earth witnessed the momentous occasion.
It took Zhai 10 years of effort to accomplish the 20-minute spacewalk since he became an astronaut. Born in 1966, Zhai joined the People's Liberation Army Air Force in 1985 and clocked over 1,000 hours of safe flight. He became a member of the first batch of Chinese astronauts in 1998.
Born in a farmer's family in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Zhai is the youngest of six children. He is accustomed to facing challenges and is perseverant since childhood.
After becoming an astronaut, he learned basic theories of aerospace medicine, geography and meteorology, advanced mathematics, and automatic control, and completed nearly 100 training subjects in just five years to qualify for space missions.
Zhai entered the final candidate list both in Shenzhou-5 mission in 2003 and Shenzhou-6 mission in 2005, and became one of the three Shenzhou-7 crew members.
Unlike the first two missions, Zhai's first space mission came with the first extravehicular activity (EVA) for Chinese astronauts. The astronaut training center has installed three new ground training equipment, including a water tank that simulates a weightless environment, a low-pressure cabin and an EVA program simulator.
Zhai and his colleagues conducted simulating weightlessness training under 10 meters of water in training suits weighing more than 160 kg, three to four hours each time.
"Every time I floated to the surface after training, I was so exhausted," he recalled. "My training suit was full of sweat, and I found it difficult to hold chopsticks while eating."
But the real challenge came when Zhai was launched into space. Under Liu Boming's assistance, Zhai opened the hatch of the spaceship's orbital module, while Jing Haipeng monitored the spaceship inside the re-entry module.