Astronauts' visit can inspire Hong Kong youth to look to science, not just business

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 1:51am


Chinese astronauts coming to Hong Kong are nothing new; they have made official stops twice before. Nor is near space as exotic as it once was. Manned missions to the International Space Station are regular events and the first commercial tourist flights are planned to begin next year. Yet the visit by the crew of the Shenzhou-IX spacecraft that made an historic docking with the Tiangong-1 space laboratory in June was important for the nation and our city. It brought us closer, while sparking renewed interest in science and exploration.

This was national education at work without the need for books or teaching materials. The nation may be following in the footsteps of the US and Russia when it comes to space, but it has made great strides in a short amount of time using homegrown technology. That is indeed cause for patriotism and pride. Liu Yang , China's first woman astronaut, is an inspiration for girls nationwide.

No matter how blasé adults have become about astronauts, they still interest children. Space travel remains the next frontier and being at the forefront is seen as glamorous. To be blasted skywards atop a rocket is exciting and challenging. There is no better way to foster an interest in and appreciation of scientific endeavour.

Shenzhou-IX's three astronauts and accompanying space scientists and officials did their best to seed that interest during their four-day visit. The hundreds of students they spoke to have been given a taste of what it takes to go to space. They were told that the nation needs scientists, engineers and space travellers to join the programme and Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are fertile grounds for recruits. It is what is needed to inspire science dreamers and innovators.

Science moves the world forward. Our city, overly focused on business and finance, does not pay that reality enough attention. Recruiting Hong Kong people for the nation's space programme would significantly change that.