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Taikonauts recall what it's like in space
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Chinese taikonaut Yang Liwei said he could never forget the moment when he blasted off from the earth and became the country's first spaceman.

Yang Liwei

Yang Liwei [File photo

"When I waved goodbye to the crowds, I felt the whole country was there to support me. That moment stays with me forever,"Yang said.

On October 15, 2003, Yang boarded on the Shenzhou-5 spacecraft and pioneered the world's most populous country's journey into space. His space tour was broadcast live across the nation.

"Every moment of the flight was memorable. It was the first big step China took in its space exploration," he said.

Yang was privileged to be the first Chinese spaceman, and his tour was accompanied by many surprises. About 100 seconds from the lift-off, he was hit by a bout of terrifying vibrations of the rocket. "I felt my internal organs were upside down, and there were waves of nausea in the ascent," he recalled.

Before he could recover from the vibrations, he was seized by the inevitable gravity loss. "I suddenly lost any sense of direction. It was a feeling I never had in my training," he said.

"Staying in the space was a whole different thing. I only slept about half an hour in the journey and spent all the other time trying to fully take in the experience," Yang said.

"I could see the coastlines and mountains of the earth. When the spacecraft flew from the shadow of the earth to the sunny side, there was this impressive aura at the horizon and the scene was strikingly beautiful."

"I didn't feel alone. I felt like the whole mankind and the earth was with me and supporting me."

Yang returned to the earth as a space and national hero. He received a promotion and witnessed an upsurge of public interest in space exploration.

"There has been more responsibility and pressure on me now than before," he said, "I hope I can get more young people to be more interested. That's probably a bigger task than just flying a spacecraft."

Li now takes on a lot of administrative duties, but he still trains with his peers. "Maintaining a high level of skills is a basic requirement for the astronauts. I'm ready whenever another mission calls me," he said.

After Yang, two more astronauts were sent to space on the Shenzhou-6 spacecraft in 2005. Nie Haisheng and Fei Junlong spent five days in the capsule touring the earth.

For the second mission, engineers made a few changes to the rocket and the craft to alleviate the physical discomfort, but the duet also had to endure the challenges of a spaceflight, like space motion sickness and decompression.

Fei excited the audiences with a few somersaults in the capsule. Nie enjoyed a set of customized meals, but missed his favorite spicy foods and garlic sauce. Apart from carrying out stipulated tasks, they chatted and exchanged tips for fishing, a pastime they shared.

When the two joined predecessor Yang to as the few to ascend beyond 300 kilometers from the earth, they were also captured by the beauty of space.

"When I flew over the earth, I couldn't help looking down from the porthole. The universe is infinite, but the earth is the only place one calls home, and that's where everyone's root is," Nie said.

"A German astronaut asked me whether I wanted to fly again. I replied 'definitely'," said Fei.

The Shenzhou-7 space mission, which includes a spacewalk, will be more demanding and more risky than the previous two, the astronauts said.

"The mission is prelude of a more advanced chapter of China's space industry development, and everyone is looking forward to its success," said Yang Liwei.

(Xinhua News Agency September 25, 2008)

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