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Taikonaut Zhai's small step historical leap for China
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18:09, September 27, 2008

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A small step by Zhai Zhigang, China's first spacewalker, has been a historical leap in China's space dreams.

The 42-year-old man ventured out of the earth-orbiting Shenzhou-7 spacecraft at about 4:43 p.m. Saturday, and became the first Chinese to leave a "footprint in the universe."

Millions of Chinese who watched his feat on television may not know Alexei Leonov, the first human to walk in space in 1965, or Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the Moon in 1969, but they will remember the first Chinese "space rambler."

Another advancement in the space hall of fame for China -- it is now the third country in the world after the United States and Russia to be capable of spacewalk.

The success of the spacewalk is one step further towards China's longer-term goal to have a space lab and eventually a space station. It will enable the nation to take up more responsibility in mankind's peaceful use of space resources.

Symbolically, the mission adds an upbeat note to an eventful year that saw the January blizzard and the May earthquake. It is seen as another source of pride and joy for the people after the Olympics.

But the national also should clearly see the distance between China and the United States and Russia, which accomplished the tasks decades earlier. Compared with these countries, China is still late-comer and only taking its starting steps.

Since ancient times, the abysmal space has been source of inspiration for artistic creations such as poems and cave paintings in the oriental country. Legend has that the first astronaut may have been a Chinese Ming dynasty (1368-1644) government official Wan Hu, who strapped himself onto a primitive "space-voyager" made of a chair, two kites and 47 gunpowder fuses.

Such space dream came to be realized in a modern China. and it took off on the back of solid economic success.

China's first manned space program, Shuguang (Dawn) 1, was initiated in 1971, but was aborted five years later due to lack of funding and low levels of technology.

The project was rekindled in 1986 as part of the "Program 863",a state-sponsored initiative to support the development of advanced technologies in a wide range of fields. That was the eighth year of reform and opening up, when its domestic output exceeded one trillion yuan. The reforms have brought profound changes to China and continue to support its future space exploration goals.

Different from the space race of the cold-war era, China's space pursuits are to explore and make peaceful use of the space without intentions at any rivalry.

It also has been thrift in developing the program by making big leaps rather than repeating missions that have already succeeded.

A 14-astronaut squad was set up in 1998. The first manned space flight was in 2003, in which Yang Liwei spent 21 hours in space. A second flight in 2005 put two men Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng on a five-day journey in space.

Looking back, the spacewalk was accomplished with a spirit of innovation. The Feitian space suit, worn by the spacewalker, was designed and made by Chinese scientists. The myriad of technologies that made the mission possible proved the nation's advancing technical prowess. The precision, creativity and dedication of those who worked for the mission will be a mark the Chinese are encouraged to look to.

About five decades ago, when Qian Xuesen, China's father of space technology, returned from the United States, hardly anyone had seen a rocket with their own eyes, let alone building one. Decades later, thousands of bright minds in aeronautics have been nurtured.

China has come a long way in its exploration into the space and it will go further in the future.

Source: Xinhua

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