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Exhibition tells story of taikonauts' journey
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Space fans have a great opportunity to imagine themselves in a taikonaut seat, thanks to a Shanghai exhibition featuring components from the Shenzhou VII, China's third manned spacecraft and the first to support a space walk.

Both the hardware and the software supporting the human element are on display, including packaged food eaten by the taikonauts, the Chinese version of astronauts.

Visitors will also be able to see a 100-kilogram pumpkin that sprouted from a seed altered by mutations in space. The massive gourd is part of a program designed to improve crop quality.

The Shanghai 2008 Space Technology Exhibition opens today at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum in Pudong.

Among the displays are the propulsion module and parachute used on the Shenzhou VII when it made its historic 68-hour flight, including a 20-minute space walk, on September 27. Made in Shanghai, the 1,200-square-meter, red-and-white-striped chute hangs in the lobby of the museum.

There is also a backup orbiter module and a model of the re-entry capsule, with three chairs from the real capsule used by taikonauts Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng.

"The real orbital capsule is still in space and is flying in smaller and smaller circles," said Zhou Xudong of the Shanghai Bureau of Astronautics. "It will fall into the atmosphere one day."

Exhibition visitors will also have a chance to view food and dietary supplements that taikonauts eat, including packaged mooncakes and stewed pork ribs.

Zhou pointed out that the items on display reflect the achievements of Chinese space technology, many of which have been adopted for life here on Earth. So far, 150 "space foods" have been developed commercially, and some are now on the shelves of supermarkets in Beijing.

Zhang Xianggen, an expert from the Shanghai Society of Astronautics, said agriculture is also benefiting from space technology, as the country tries to improve its ability to feed its huge population with decreasing farmland.

The technique involves sending seeds into space for exposure to an environment packed with radiation but lacking in gravity and atmospheric pressure. The extreme conditions can result in mutations to the seeds, some of which may be beneficial.

"The Shenzhou-series spacecraft have taken various seeds for grain, vegetables, fruit and cotton into space," Zhang said. "Many seeds have developed into better varieties, with higher yield, better quality and higher tolerance to drought and frost."

The exhibition will run through next Tuesday.

(Shanghai Daily December 3, 2008)

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