China in Space
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IAN WILLIAMS: With a patriotic sense of occasion, Chinese television showed Yang Liwei, the country’s first spaceman– or taikonaut, in Chinese– as he strolled triumphantly towards his long march rocket before dawn this morning. It lifted off from a pad in the Gobi Desert at 9:00.
At the last moment, the government scrapped plans to show these pictures live, releasing them only after a safe launch. The falling debris didn’t appear to be anything serious, Yang telling space control, “I feel good.” He’ll circle the earth 14 times. China’s president, Hu Jintao, witnessed the launch, brimming with pride at breaking the U.S.- Russian monopoly on manned space flights.
HU JINTAO, China’s President (translated): It’s the glory of our great motherland and a mark for the initial victory of the country’s first manned space flight and it’s also a significant historic step of the Chinese’s people advance in climbing up the peak of the world science and technology. (Applause )
IAN WILLIAMS: Reporter: Earlier, Mr. Hu had greeted Taikonaut Yang as he sat in his spacesuit behind the glass of a sterile area, vowing to do his patriotic best. Chinese television explained that after rigorous tests, the 38-year-old fighter pilot had been chosen from 15,000 contenders. China’s space program has come a long way since the country’s first satellite was launched in 1970, orbiting and blasting out the Cultural Revolution anthem, “The East is Red.”
In 1996, an unmanned rocket exploded on takeoff, and there’s been speculation that another unmanned mission two years ago also failed, since there were no photographs of the module’s return. This patchy record probably explains the reluctance to go live today. That said, China has been more open this time than the Soviet Union ever was. The media– including central television’s English language service– gripped by space frenzy.
SPOKESMAN: What can we do to avoid having the direct and hard hit against the ground when it lands? Do we have to use the parachute?
SPOKESMAN: Yes. The parachute.
IAN WILLIAMS: The sense of pride seemed to be shared by those watching events on a giant screen in central Beijing today.
WOMAN (Translated): This is a turning point in China’s history. This will let the world understand the new China.
MAN (Translated ): The successful launch fills me with joy. China’s aerospace program is the pride of its people.
IAN WILLIAMS: No room here for the sort of questions about the cost of manned space travels now being asked in America. Also clear today, the close involvement of the military in China’s program. Indeed, it’s under the direct control of the military, its director an army officer. Today the mood at the space control center was cautiously celebratory. After all, Mr. Yang isn’t back yet. But by putting a man in space, China has joined an elite club, just as the space programs of the founder members face growing uncertainty.