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China to make its first-ever spacewalk with Russia’s help

Russian technicians will help direct China's first-ever spacewalk this week, setting the stage for expanded cooperation between the countries, a spokesman for China's space program said Wednesday.

Two Chinese astronauts aboard the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft will don spacesuits for the maneuver, one of them a Russian-made Orlan model, Wang Zhaoyao told reporters at the Jiuquan launch site in northwestern China.

The two will be "supported by Russian experts throughout the mission," Wang said.

The three-man mission, expected to last about three days, is China's most ambitious since it launched its first man into space in 2003. The spacewalk, known formally as an extravehicular activity or EVA, is expected to help China develop the technology for docking two orbiters to create China's first space station in the future.

China says its secretive military-backed space program has relied overwhelmingly on domestic technology and know-how, and cooperation with Russia has been highly limited. Some Chinese astronauts, sometimes called "taikonauts" for the Chinese word for space, are believed to have trained in Russia early on, but all now undergo preparations in facilities in China.

"The successful cooperation on the Shenzhou 7 manned mission will create favorable conditions for future cooperation between our two countries," Wang said, without giving details.

Wang gave no exact date or time for the spacewalk. He said the launch window for the mission at Jiuquan had been set at between 9:07 p.m. and 10:27 p.m. (1307 and 1427 GMT) on Thursday.

Although two astronauts will don suits, only one will leave the module to retrieve scientific experiments placed outside. Wang did not say who that astronaut would be or whether he would be wearing an Orlan suit or China's homemade Feitian suit.

Fighter Pilot Zhai Zhigang, 42, an unsuccessful candidate for the previous two manned missions, has been touted by the official Xinhua News Agency as the leading astronaut to carry out the spacewalk, expected to last about 40 minutes.

Reports differed over the timing of the spacewalk. While reports Tuesday said it would come on Friday afternoon, one day after the launch, the program's space application system director-general and chief designer was quoted as saying it would come on Saturday.

"In fact, it should happen on the second day after it enters orbit," Gu Yidong was quoted as saying by the Lanzhou Morning News, a newspaper in Gansu province where Jiuquan is located.