Space mission helps dreams take flight

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 September, 2008, 12:00am

Beijing Grade Four primary school pupil Wang Zhifeng said the success of the Shenzhou VII mission had made him more determined than ever to become an astronaut when he grows up.

The nine-year-old, from a primary school affiliated with the Chaoyang Teachers College, said he had always wanted to be an astronaut and so was particularly thrilled to see the liftoff on Thursday.

'But I'm more inspired to become as astronaut now because I know I could also go spacewalking. It was just amazing to see the astronauts floating in outer space,' Zhifeng said.

'I would also feel proud to do such good deeds for the country.'

Like millions of Chinese at home and abroad, Zhifeng was glued to the television watching the live broadcast of the Shenzhou VII mission - the country's third manned space mission, which included the first spacewalk by a Chinese astronaut.

State media gave it extensive coverage, chronicling everything from details of the hi-tech spacesuits to the glamour of the astronauts' wives in a bid to cultivate public interest, particularly among the young.

Zhifeng said his teachers asked the class to write a report on the Shenzhou VII mission as homework.

China will not send astronauts on the next two space missions, which means it might need younger replacements for the current astronauts, who are mostly in their early 40s, when it resumes manned missions.

The three-day mission brought the country one step closer to building an independent space station to rival the International Space Station, and generated much national pride over the country's technological prowess and rising global status.

However, the mission has been overshadowed by a massive baby formula contamination scandal that has killed four infants and sickened thousands more.

Beijing Institute of Technology professor Hu Xingdou said the success of Shenzhou VII no doubt made the people proud, and as the Beijing Olympics had done, demonstrated what a highly centralised state could do. But authorities failed terribly in cases where greater public supervision and participation were needed, he said, because the whole system was based on an authoritarian regime.

'The former Soviet Union sent men into space, but the Soviet Union's flag fell, so a country's clout is not merely a demonstration of hi-tech gadgets,' he said.

China's clout and international status would be harmed, he added, unless media freedom expanded and the public was given a bigger voice in state affairs.