Dawn of the Taikonaut

Hard News Article - 20 October 2003

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“I feel good.” Were the first three Mandarin words broadcasted from space to mission control yesterday in mainland China. They are forty years behind the Cold War super powers in making that first step into the space race, but it makes China’s space flight yesterday by 38-year-old “taikonaut” Col. Yang no less significant. October 15th will go down in the history books as the day that a third competitor joined the space race.

“Divine vessel” is the translation of the spacecraft’s name Shenzhou V that took Lt. Col. Yang Liwei, a fighter pilot for the People’s Liberation Army, into his 22-hour orbit around the earth. The spacecraft was a hallmark in another sense that it used all Chinese technology. China’s president Hu Jintao hailed that the mission was, “a historic step for the Chinese people in their clib to the top of the world of science and technology”.

The spaceflight has boosted national confidence tremendously as China’s economic growth has also made it a contender in the world marketplace. The nation has been very secretive about its space program in the past. They were so nervous about the Shenzhou V actually working that it was decided not to broadcast the launch live to avoid any possible embarassment. However, the flight went off without a hitch. Shenzhou V stands as a monument to China’s rise as a world economic and technological power capable to compete with the United States.

Shenzhou V orbited earth 14 times on its one-day mission. Most of the flight was broadcasted on CCTV in China and a biography of Col. Yang’s rise from modest beginnings in Northeastern China to an ace pilot in the military was also broadcasted. Most Chinese were more interested in the new national hero than in the flight itself. The orbiter landed safely at 6:28am on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia.

“It looks extremely splendid around here,” were Col. Yang’s words to his family from the orbiter. This outlook might carry a greater significance for China’s future as a major world player than what Col. Yang might have ment. The administrator of NASA recognized the flight as “an important achievement” acknowledging the competitor’s late-coming but relevant stance in the space race. China is only the third country, along with the United States and Russia, to launch a man into space.