Saturday, September 27, 2008

Patriotism from Space

Yesterday morning us foreigners turned the TV onto CNN to watch the US presidential debates live at 9am Beijing time.

But in the afternoon the television was commandeered by our Chinese colleagues to CCTV watch the country's first-ever spacewalk at 4:30pm.

The control center explained the exercise would take 20 minutes... and it pretty much did.

After presenting endless shots of the control center with an army of men in baby blue lab coats sitting at their desks staring at computer monitors, there was finally a shot of the astronaut Zhai Zhigang in his $4.4 million Chinese-made spacesuit and ready to go out.

However, he seemed to have some difficulty unlocking the door and everyone gathered around the TV had anxious looks on their faces.

Would he be able to open the door? Would he let the entire nation of 1.3 billion Chinese down?

But then after a few minutes he was finally able to open the circular hatch and everyone cheered.


The hole looked small for him and his suit to get out. Again we all waited with baited breath as he seemed to struggle to get out. Again shouts of encouragement from my colleagues, as if he could hear them.

And then he popped his head out, and then like a choreographed move, he turned to the camera positioned outside the Shenzhou VII spacecraft and waved.

"I am greeting the Chinese people and the people of the world," Zhai said in an echoed voice.

Everyone cheered and clapped.

His next step was to actually get out. But just as he was doing that, the feed cut into colour pixels and then immediately we were shown shots of the control center again.

We all groaned and wondered what was happening.

A few minutes later the feed cut back to Zhai already out and his colleague Liu Boming popping his head out.

Zhai held a Chinese flag and waved it to the 1.3 billion people watching below.

Not only had the Chinese waved the flag on summit of the world's highest peak, but also in space in one year. Both are pretty impressive feats.

He then handed the flag back to Liu and Zhai continued on, hooking and rehooking himself to various bars to move further out of the Shenzhou VII spacecraft.

When he floated past the camera, the feed was cut again, probably knocking something.

But soon after, the images showed him just outside the hatch. He retrieved some rectangular block and gave it to Liu... and then went back inside.

Later my coworker said while she was so excited about China's first spacewalk and was really nervous, she was disappointed Zhai didn't venture further outside the spacecraft or spend a longer time outside.

Nevertheless, it will be a moment implanted in her brain, and in the minds of millions of others who witnessed it for years to come.

Zhai has become a national hero and will be forever remembered in history and text books.

The making of an icon.

1 comment:

ks said...

This quantum leap in space technology on the part
China is nothing short of phenomenal. It makes every Chinese proud much like the succcessful perforamance in the Olympics.