With years of rigorous training, Colonel Fei Junlong and Colonel Nie Haisheng will surely become household names along with their glamorous flight aboard the Shenzhou-6 spaceship.
The spacecraft is scheduled to blast off Wednesday morning in the launch site in northwest China. In the next few days of space flight, the two astronauts will, for the first time, move from the return module into the orbital module.
They have similar military background and experience. Fei is 40 years old and 170 cm tall while Nie 41 and 172 cm. Both used to be air force pilots. However, they have different personality. Fei is extrovert while Nie seems introvert, but they said they are "happy together."
Two years ago, Fei and Nie saw their pal Yang Liwei sent to space by the Shenzhou-5 spacecraft amidst worldwide attention, shedding tears at Yang's launch and return moments.
"I felt enormously proud in my heart," Nie said. He hugged Yang on the latter's return with tearful congratulation and said "You are great!"
Now it's the show time of Fei and Nie.
The youngest son of a rich family in east China's Jiangsu Province, Fei enrolled in a military pilot school without prior notice to his parents when he was in senior middle school. "Your choice. No regret," Fei retold his father's words.
In comparison, Nie was born into an impoverished, single-parent rural family in central Hubei Province. Hardworking through his school life, he was a poor boy going to school with bare feet. He was unable to pay his due tuition sometimes and had to give his teacher a rabbit instead, according to Xu Datian, an elementary school teacher in Nie's home village.
Fei said he strived for the astronaut training program out of a young guy's curiosity though he was not sure what an astronaut is at that time. But now he is pretty sure of every tiny part of highly sophisticated spaceflight procedure and emergency handling. He has memorized the lengthy spaceflight guide book and able to find something new in simulation work, according to Hu Yinyan, an astronaut training official.
Dreaming to fly with big wings in childhood, Nie had to persuade his wife to endorse his spaceman dream because of her safety worries. "How can I solve this problem? I did a hell of talking to her, and helped her more often in housework to win her over."
Fei recalled his "narrow escape" in a test flight. He nearly ran out of fuel in midair and was forced to make an emergency landing. "It's risky. But I would like to carry on since I have my choice," Nie said.
Only best workmates can play best game. The partnership of Fei and Nie was the result of partly their own choice and experts' selection based on their training performance and mission, Fei said.
Certainly Nie agreed. "This mission involves two persons and needs good cooperation and psychological compatibility. We have a psychological doctor to help." The would-be spacemen have lived and trained together, learning to understand each other's character, hobbies and responses and to read the other's facial signs.
Yang Liwei commented on his successors that Fei is a cheerful person and has strong ability to wheel things into line. Nie was one of the three final candidates for the first manned space mission. Although he talks little, he is very supportive and responsible.
"In the spaceflight we will really live and work in space. We are well prepared," Nie said.