Shenzhou IX astronauts bid farewell to Hong Kong

First woman in space could not help but steal the limelight before leaving HK

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2012, 4:14am

China's first female in space and her two colleagues on board the Shenzhou IX rocket bid an apt farewell to Hong Kong yesterday, when it was all about the women.

Fresh from her voyage to the Tiangong-1 experimental space station, Major Liu Yang could not help but steal the limelight from Senior Colonel Liu Wang and Senior Colonel Jing Haipeng wherever they went - a fact that did not escape the men.

"Wherever we've gone, we've heard: 'Liu Yang, Liu Yang!' Deep down, Liu Wang and I have been envious," Jing said mischievously.

His remark came at a gathering of about 180 women, including the chief executive's wife, Regina Tong Ching-yee, and former secretary for justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie, in the Harbour Grand Kowloon hotel. And once again Liu Yang was the star.

She was moved to tears as they listened to a recording of the story of how she became an astronaut.

She told how she would study late into the cold winter nights at home in Zhengzhou , the capital of Henan . "My mum would sleep with me. Actually she wanted to use her body warmth to warm the bed. So when I went to bed the blanket was all warmed up," she said.

She was a bright student and her class teacher signed her up without even asking her, when the first batch of women astronauts was being recruited in 1997, when Liu Yang was about 18 years old.

However, she had never been sporty and had to work hard on getting fit. "Each morning I would wake up at 6am and run 7,000 metres," she said. "My hair would become all white, like an old man, with ice stuck to it."

Other than working on the next space missions, she said her next target would be to have a child, after her body recovers from the space travel.

After the trio sang on stage at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, Liu Wang gave another demonstration of his musical talent by playing the theme song from a Chinese television drama on his harmonica. He said it was the same one he played over the phone from space to his wife for her birthday on June 21.

"I would like to thank my wife for her support," he said, and almost in apology for not being more emotional, he added: "We are not romantic people." However, he said one of his missions in Hong Kong was to get everything on his wife's shopping list, cosmetics and all.

He admitted that his mother had initially objected to him becoming an astronaut, as she thought it would be difficult for him to find a wife. She was later persuaded by his teacher.

Asked how he had trained his hands to be steady to perform the manual docking, he told how, as a small boy, he used to help his grandmother with needlework.

There was a farewell ceremony at Government House with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying before the delegation headed to Macau for two nights, taking the ferry from Sheung Wan.

Niu Hongguang , the manned space programme's deputy chief commander who led the delegation, ensured he would always be welcome in Hong Kong. "Although the visit is short, we are impressed by the charm and beauty of the oriental pearl," he said, "And also the prosperity and open atmosphere of this metropolis.

"For the 15 years since the handover, we have felt the great achievements of Hong Kong and the expectations of Hong Kong people for aeronautic development in China."