China waved its flag in outer space on Saturday and became only the third nation after the US and former Soviet Union, to have gone on a successful walk in space.
China’s leader Mao Zedong had once complained that the Chinese did not know how to send a potato to space. This week, the world’s factory for cheap exports announced it was ready to mass-produce spacecraft and train foreign astronauts.
This is China’s third manned mission to space since 2003, and part of a larger plan to design the country’s own space lab, a space station and a Moon landing. India is preparing for its first unmanned mission to the Moon next month.
A Chinese ‘taikonaut’ Zhai Zhigang, whose mother once sold roasted sunflower seeds on the street, waved the national flag 343 km above Earth. He wore a homemade four-million-dollar and 120 kg spacesuit that required 15 hours to assemble and put on. The 10-layered suit is called Feitian meaning ‘flying the sky’.
He emerged headfirst from the Shenzhou VII (meaning Divine Vessel) spacecraft and spent 16 minutes spacewalking as millions of Chinese watched on television.
The spacewalk was high on post-Olympics nationalism. Official media called it a ‘historical leap’ for China and an ‘upbeat’ note to a year of snowstorms and earthquakes.