Wednesday, October 1, 2008

¡China again!

by Martín Bonfil Olivera
Published on
Milenio Diario, October 1, 2008

The Chinese do it again! They managed to place a man into orbit in 2003 and then two in 2005 onboard spaceships Shenzhou ("divine vessel" ) 5 and 6. And last Saturday, they achieved their first space walk.

Actually, more than walking, taikonaut - from Chinese taikong, space - Zhai Zhigang stepped out of Shenzhou 7 and floated around it, fastened by cables, for 13 minutes. He waved the Chinese flag, sent a patriotic message on TV and recovered an experiment on solid lubricants that was outside the capsule.

The mission, lasting 68 hours - on Sunday, the ship with its crew of 3 people, landed on a parachute in Mongolia - was followed on TV by millions of Chinese. When they returned on Monday to Pekin, the taikonauts were received with a parade, garlands, ovations, interviews and honors. The official media declared that it was a "great advance" - half a century ago, Mao Zedong complained that his country could not launch even a potato into space - and showed the undoubtedly Chinese scientific and technical power.

Sensationalism, exaggeration? Information about the flight was not free of manipulation: state news agency Xinhua sent a bulletin reporting the successful launch on Thursday 25 in the morning, even giving details -hours before the launch!

But the truth of the matter is that China defined a clear course and has successfully achieved it. Its space program places China near to Russia's and United States program, the only countries that have achieved space walks, and ahead of their competitors, Japan and India.

The Chinese space program was started more than 30 years ago. Zhigang used a space suit made in China (4 million dollars) and most of the technology on Shenzhou 7 - that included a toilet - is national. No doubt about it: constant support of technology and science has financial, as well as othter types of returns that have contributed to turn China into a world power.

Could something like this happen in México? I doubt it: although, between 1995 and 96, UNAM (National University) launched two satellites (with poor results), and on April 2006 congress approved the creation of a Mexican Space Agency, there has not been any political will to develop a true space program.

HMexicans have a saying about a china man that "just stands looking"... maybe it would have to change: the one who stays just looking is mexican, not chinese.

(translated by Adrián Robles Benavides)

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