|The mission of Shenzhou
VI spacecraft, China's second manned flight into space, with two astronauts,
Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, marks another milestone achievement in the
history of Chinese space exploration. While we might be some 50 years behind
the US and other western countries, and even though more than 400 humans
from at least 32 countries have gone into space, we are determined to catch
up. More important, we are determined to play our role in expanding new
horizons in international space exploration.
Returning to earth,
Fei and Nie were given hero's welcome, just as our first astronaut, Yan
Liwei. They will later tour around the country, and come to Hong Kong
to testify to the realization of the long-cherished space dream of the
With the advances
in aerospace technologies, the Shenzhou VI mission has achieved success,
and everything seemed to have proceeded as expected. There were great
risk and uncertainty in this mission, and they were readily surmountable.
The conditions certainly have improved tremendously since the first man,
Yuri Gagarin, was sent for space travel nearly 45 years ago.
Indeed, there was
enormous uncertainty back in 1961. No one knew precisely what would happen
to a human being in space, how the human body would react to extreme changes
in temperature, and how the human mind would deal with unforeseen psychological
stress. A technical failure would burn the first cosmonaut Gagarin to
cinders or leave him in the hazy firmament to die a long and lonely death.
It was even said that the Soviet authorities at that time, because of
failures in retro-rocket firing in two out of five test flights, thought
it more likely that Gagarin would perish in the descent than survive.
Gagarin deserves our greatest respect for being the first man in space,
doing something exceedingly dangerous that no one else has ever done before.
Let us pay tributes to Yuri Gagarin in this issue.
Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968)
Gagarin was born on March 9, 1934 in Klushino, a village 100 miles west
of Moscow near Gzhatsk. His father was a collective farmer and a carpenter,
and his mother was a milkmaid. Gagarin was the third of four children,
and his elder sister helped to take care of him while his parents worked.
In 1941, Gagarin's village was occupied by the invading Nazis. At the
age of 7, young Gagarin witnessed an act of selfless bravery that might
have inspired his life's work. A Soviet fighter pilot emptied his machine
guns at a German column before sacrificing himself in a dive with his
wounded plane into the enemy soldiers.
After the war, in
1950, Gagarin resumed his education and enrolled in the Lyubertsy foundryman's
school near Moscow. The following year, he entered Saratov Industrial
College and began taking courses in the nearby flying school. In 1955,
he earned his foundryman's diploma and his flying papers. That fall, he
enrolled in the Orenburg Flying School, graduated in 1957, joined the
Soviet Air Force as a fighter pilot, and was promoted to Lieutenant. In
the same year, he married Valentina Gorycheva. Two years later, he volunteered
to join the top secret Soviet space program, and for three years, he underwent
intensive training to become a cosmonaut, experiencing the crushing force
of rocket acceleration, the disorientation of weightlessness, and the
rigors of re-entry into earth's atmosphere.
On April 12, 1961,
at exactly 9:07 am Moscow time, Gagarin left the earth in Vostok I. He
sailed weightlessly across heavens for 108 minutes in a nearly five-ton
craft flying 18,000 mph and 188 miles above earth. In this mission, the
Russian broke all flight records and the American hope of getting in space
first in the space race. As Vostok I reentered the atmosphere, Gagarin
sang The Motherland Hears, the Motherland Knows as he watched flames streak
past his porthole.
Gagarin landed safely
on an unplowed field of a collective farm, Lenin's Way. He was given a
hero's welcome, the Order of Lenin, and the title Hero of the Soviet Union.
Overnight, Gagarin became an instant, worldwide celebrity, touring to
promote the Soviet achievement. Being stressed out and with difficulties
in his marriage, Gagarin began to drink heavily. On October 1967, he severely
injured himself in a drunken holiday escapade. He was later permanently
grounded from cosmonautics. On March 27, 1968, while on a routine training
flight in a MiG jet, Gagarin crashed and died.
Gagarin's ashes were
interred in the Kremlin wall. To commemorate the first man in space and
his historical flight, a 40-metre titanium obelisk was erected at the
Vostok I landing site. The town of Gzhatsk was renamed after him, as is
a crater on the far side of the moon. The main center for cosmonaut training
at Star City is now called the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.
will be many more future space flights and space travels. Let the world
celebrate the success of humankind in space exploration from Gagarin to
Fei and Nie. Fei and Nie, just as Gagarin and other astronauts, could
not resist looking out of their spacecraft and admired the beauty of Earth,
including China their motherland. They echoed Gagarin's first words in
space, "I saw Earth. It's so beautiful." Gagarin also announced
when he returned to earth that there is enough room among the stars for
everyone. In anticipating the visit of Fei and Nie to Hong Kong, let us
welcome them not only as citizens of Hong Kong, not only as citizens of
China, but also as citizens of the world. Together, we wish that there
will be peace among nations, and nations will join hands in the peaceful
exploration of space to the benefit of humankind.
As always, I'm interested
in hearing your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David W. Chan