09/27/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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China takes first step into space

The 15-minute spacewalk was broadcast on live TV. Great satisfaction and pride among politicians and scientists, who reiterate that it is the first step in creating a Chinese space station.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The first step into space by a Chinese astronaut has concluded successfully, and was broadcast on live television. 40 years after Russia's Alexei Leonov, today, shortly after 4:30 PM (Beijing time), Commander Zhai Zhigang emerged from the capsule orbiting 343 kilometers above the Earth, holding a Chinese flag. He carried out a few operations, in constant contact with the two astronauts who remained on board. He returned to the capsule after about 15 minutes, to general satisfaction.

The media continue to celebrate the gesture of national greatness, after the success of the Olympics. Scientists repeat that this is only the first step toward the realization of the space station. In Tiananmen Square in Beijing, there is a huge white moon, with a space capsule orbiting around it, the prelude to the announced upcoming conquest of the moon.

The Chinese media are full of details on the mission, and on the technical marvels of the space capsule, almost as if to make it more familiar to everyone, in addition to celebrating the country's potential. So there is a description of the "bathroom" on board, the first toilet on a Chinese space capsule, with an explanation and illustrations of how it works. Today's menu is given: spicy chicken with peanuts, shrimp, and dried fruit. It is recalled that the astronauts have traditional Chinese remedies at hand, like taikong yangxin ("space heart-nourisher"), made up of "more than 10 Chinese herbs", explains a spokesman for the nation's health department, "that improve the astronauts' cardiovascular condition". The innovations added to copied Russian and American technology are highlighted.

More than anything, the "ordinary stories" of the three astronauts are celebrated: Liu Boming is the second of six children born to a poor farming family in Heilongjiang, who in order to attend a prestigious secondary school made the 10-kilometer round-trip journey on his bicycle through muddy streets, with temperatures that dropped below 30 degrees after sunset. Zhai Zhigang, who made the spacewalk, was supported in his education by his mother, who sold toasted sunflower seeds to put him through school. Jing Haipeng, whose family wanted to remove him from school, because it was too expensive. All three were born to poor farming families, and through commitment and hard work achieved their goals: to be members of the communist party, army officers, and astronauts.

But the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong today prints an irreverent cartoon, referring to the milk scandal. In a crowded hospital waiting room, exhausted parents cradle their infants, many of whom are crying desperately. A television set broadcasts images of the space mission, and an infuriated mother comments: "We should be proud of our advanced technology . . ." (PB)

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