Tuesday, October 14, 2003

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- China reached a milestone in human history today with the launch of its first piloted spaceflight into Earth orbit.

Blasting off from a remote space base in the Gobi Desert atop a Long March 2F rocket, a single Chinese astronaut named Yang Liwei is on his way to circle the planet every 90 minutes aboard the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft.

As a result, China has become only the third nation on Earth capable of independently launching its citizens into orbit. The former Soviet Union was first in 1961, followed by the United States in 1962.

It is expected the three-part capsule, whose more modern design is largely based on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, will make 14 orbits and remain in space for about 21 hours before executing re-entry and a parachute landing onto Chinese soil.

Liwei, 38, is an avid ice skater and swimmer, according to Chinese news media. He was raised in the northeast province of Liaoning and is the son of a teacher and an official at an agricultural firm.

Whatever the outcome of the flight, Liwei already is a hero to the Chinese people.

Half and half on this one. Psyched, on the first hand, that somebody is still pushing for spaceflight (albeit kinda laughable and primitive spaceflight), but kinda bummed that it's one of the most brutal and totalitarian nations on the planet. Then again, the space race and subsequent interest in extra-atmospheric activities was sparked by a brutal and totalitarian nation, right?

There's a snide comment to make about America in here, but I'll leave it off. Not feeling patriotic or anything; just not quite drunk enough for adolescent cheap shots at one of Am's better attempts at being bigger than itself, at a time when this place seemed on the cusp of being something of the golden Utopia that we've always promised ourselves we'd make of it.

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