The launch of Shenzhou 7 is currently set for late in 2008 (most likely in September or October). The mission will be launched out of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center located in China's Gansu Province aboard a Long March CZ 2F booster - but that is where the similarity to past missions ends.
The Shenzhou 7 mission will be the most complex mission ever attempted by China. To start with the spacecraft will be carrying a crew of three which is the maximum number of astronauts the spacecraft is capable of supporting. The astronauts will be warring new $20,000,000.00 (US) spacesuits. Each of these weighs 220 pounds on Earth and are improved versions of the spacesuits that were worn by the Shenzhou 5 & 6 astronauts. The spacecraft itself has also been modified. The life support system has been upgraded to support the three man crew and the orbital module has been modified to function as an airlock.
The current plan is to launch the spacecraft into Earth orbit. One or two of the astronauts will then enter the orbital module and seal themselves inside. They will then depressurize the module and exit into space where they will make their way around to the front of the spacecraft where a small workstation will be set up. There the astronauts will perform a variety of simple tasks like tightening screws and bolts using specialized equipment. They will also install various pieces of equipment before re-entering their spacecraft after about 30 minuets.
Artist's rendering showing how Chinese astronauts will use the orbital module as an airlock to conduct their first spacewalk. Photo Credit: Go Taikonauts
The crew is expected to spend the rest of the mission conducting experiments and testing their spacecraft before returning to Earth after spending about a week to 10 days in space. // By Robert Gass