Zhai Zhigang, one of the three astronauts to carry out Shenzhou VII space mission later this month, was brought up in poverty. Zhai's father suffered ill-health for many years, and his mother sold melon seeds to support the family.
Keeping secrets even from his own family
Zhai Zhigang is expected to be China's 1st astronaut to walk in space. [File photo]
Zhai's elder brother, Zhai Zhiqiang, did not know Zhai had been selected as one of the three astronauts who will carry out the country's third manned space mission until he received a phone call from a TV station on the morning of September 16.
"When Zhigang called me, we usually talked about family matters, but seldom touched on the topic of his work," said Zhai Zhiqiang. He lives in a small room where a poster of the six candidates for the Shenzhou VI mission is pasted on the wall.
Missing two chances of becoming astronaut
Zhai was selected as a potential astronaut 10 years ago, but he was not chosen for either the Shenzhou V or Shenzhou VI flights. But he remained undaunted, saying: "I will continue to try my best, even if I am not selected as an astronaut for Shenzhou VII."
Filial affection for his mother
Zhai did the cooking and took his mother home by bicycle when he was in middle and high schools. In 1985, he joined the Chinese Air Force. As he was preparing to leave home, his mother borrowed 20 yuan (US$ 2.92) from a neighbor to buy a travel bag for him, while Zhai left his mother 100 yuan that he had collected over three years in high school. At college, Zhai sent most of his subsidy home every month to his mother. Zhai's mother passed away in 2003 while Zhai was training as one of the candidates for Shenzhou V.
Zhai loves calligraphy, reading, dancing and playing with electronic toys. He says he is not conservatively-minded, but loves adventure and challenges.
(China.org.cn by Wu Jin, September 17, 2008)