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Chinese astronauts take silkworms for zero-gravity spin in Tiangong-2 space lab

Two Chinese astronauts spent part of their first days in the Tiangong-2 space laboratory playing with a silkworm in zero gravity – thanks to an experiment suggested by Hong Kong students.

In a video released by the state-run Xinhua news agency on Thursday, Jing Haipeng, commander of the space mission, released a white silkworm and let it float in the air.

Six silkworms were taken into space by the astronauts for an experiment designed by Hong Kong students to study how the larvae transform in the weightless environment, Xinhua said.

The silkworm was seen wriggling as it drifted inside the space lab, tethered with some silk tied to Jing’s fingers, said Zhu Fengdeng, an engineer at the space control centre who was commenting in the video.

“The silkworm was trying to climb onto Jing’s hand,” Zhu said. “But it bounced off every time it touched.”

In the video, the two astronauts also used a plastic bag to collect the silkworm’s faeces.

The silkworm study was designed by students at the Christian and Missionary Alliance Sun Kei Secondary School.

The astronauts will also carry out projects designed by students at Hong Kong’s Shun Tak Fraternal Association Yung Yau College and Po Leung Kuk Laws Foundation College.

The three projects were the winners of a 2015 space experiment design competition organised by Hong Kong’s Home Affairs Bureau and the China Manned Space Agency.

Chinese spacecraft docks successfully and astronauts enter orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab

The astronauts entered the space lab on Wednesday morning to begin China’s longest space mission, after the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft successfully docked with Tiangong-2.

During their one-month stay in the orbiting space lab, the pair would share details of their life via text, audio and video as Xinhua’s special correspondents, the news agency said.

In the first “space journal” video filmed on Wednesday evening, Jing said he was sleepy after a day of hard work and was ready to eat a decent dinner.

“Because of the docking process, we were too busy to have meals,” Jing said into a microphone as he tried to remain still in front of the camera. “We heated rice and noodles but forgot about them afterwards. We will make up for that at dinner.”

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His companion Chen Dong was seen working in the space lab as Jing talked.

Jing, who is on his third space trip, said he was satisfied with the decor and colour combination of their new home in space.

The two astronauts were launched into space aboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft on Monday to carry out scientific experiments and test technologies related to building a fully functioning space station by 2022.

The country’s first manned space mission since 2013 has led to an outpouring of national pride on Chinese social media.