At around 9.40am GMT, Col Zhai depressurized and opened the hatch of his orbiting module and stepped out into the void, 213 miles above earth.
As he floated out of the chamber, he turned and waved to a television camera that was broadcasting the event live on Chinese national television. In a sign of the importance of the space walk to China, President Hu Jintao watched the scenes from the mission control centre in Beijing.
"Shenzhou-7 is now outside the spacecraft. I feel well. I am here greeting the Chinese people and the people of the whole world," said Col. Zhai, 41, to applause from the control centre. As he floated in space, he waved a Chinese flag in his right hand.