Nie Haisheng dreamt as a boy that he sprouted two big wings and flew in the sky on the back of a cow.
The dream of the child cowherd came true on October 12 albeit in the module of a high-tech spacecraft as the Shenzhou VI blasted off into the skies.
For a poor boy born in a remote village, to become the focus of a nation, indeed, the world, is the stuff dreams are made of.
Thousands of kilometers away from the launch site in northwest China's Gansu Province, his seriously ill mother witnessed the exciting moment on television lying on a hospital bed in his hometown, the city of Zaoyang in central China's Hubei Province.
She had borne eight children and fed them by working on a farm with her husband. She suffered a cerebral haemorrhage last year and cannot speak now.
Nie lived in the village until he was 18 along with his six elder sisters and a younger brother doing farm work and studying.
Although his family was very poor, his parents tried their best to send him to school.
However, his father died of illness when he was 14 years old and as the oldest male in the family, Nie had to drop out of school to support the family.
Fortunately, with the encouragement of teachers and the school, Nie enrolled again and graduated from high school with good grades.
Like his fellow astronaut Fei Junlong, Nie Haisheng enrolled as a fighter pilot in 1984; and along with China's first astronaut Yang Liwei, Fei and other several others, Nie was selected as one of China's first potential astronauts.
Nie, 41 years old and 1.72 meters tall, was also one of the final three candidates for the Shenzhou V mission two years ago when Yang got the nod ahead of others.
Yang describes Nie as persistent and dauntless, and at the same time, prudent. "He doesn't talk much. He is a hard-working and cooperative guy," Yang was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
(China Daily October 13, 2005)