Chinese taikonauts inspire ASEAN students with their space stories

BEIJING: Many people are eager to know how astronauts live and work in space. They want to know, among other things, how they bathe, sleep and answer the call of nature or what happens if they fall ill.

Nearly 1,000 secondary school students from China and ASEAN member states managed to get all their questions answered during a live video call session on Nov 1 with three Chinese astronauts or ‘taikonauts’ – Liu Yang, Chen Dong and Cai Xuzhe – presently aboard the Shenzhou-14 spaceship at China’s Tiangong space station.

Huang Jun Kai from Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina Chung Kwok in Kuala Lumpur was among the lucky students from Malaysia who participated in the ‘ASEAN Students Talk with Taikonouts’ session, jointly organised by China-ASEAN Centre and World Affairs Press Co Ltd.

The main venue for the session was the Beijing Royal School in Beijing while the ASEAN venues included Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

One of the things Huang wanted to know was how the astronauts coped if they had a health problem.

Replied Cai: “Don’t worry… we have medicines with us in case one of us falls ill in outer space. Not only that, we can also communicate with the doctor via video calls. We also constantly monitor the cleanliness of the Tiangong station to ensure we don’t get infected by germs.”

During the live video call session, Cai and his colleagues shared their daily routines and experiences with the students, inspiring many of them to chase their own dream of becoming an astronaut someday.

Sent to space on June 5 on a six-month mission, the three taikonauts have been tasked with the major job of overseeing the final stages of the construction of the Tiangong space station which comprises the core Tianhe module (control centre) and the Wentian and Mengtian experiment modules.

The development of the Tiangong space station is another feather in China’s cap as it pushes ahead with its space programme, work on which started three decades ago.

Balanced diet, cellphones

The nearly two-hour live video call session kept the three Chinese astronauts busy as they fielded questions from the students who could hardly contain their excitement listening to the experiences of the space scientists.

Cai told them they have a microwave oven to heat their food.

“Our food includes all kinds of vegetables, fresh fruits and other foods that provide us with a balanced diet and keep us in good condition,” he said.

When asked if they missed their families and homes, Chen Dong said homesickness is not much of a problem for them as they can communicate with their families through their cellphones.

“We can use cellphones in space. There’s Wi-Fi in our cabin which allows us to communicate with those on the ground, hence we can make video calls to our families,” he said.

Chen Dong also extended his good wishes to the students and hoped their space dream will come true one day.

Liu Yang, China’s first woman astronaut to go to space, said she and her crew members worked seven to eight hours a day and slept eight hours each night in an environment where the sun rises and sets every 90 minutes.

When asked what she considers the most difficult task in space, her answer was extravehicular activities (EVAs). (An EVA is any activity done by an astronaut in outer space outside a spacecraft.)

“Each EVA, from preliminary preparations to recovery, usually takes several days. We need to work non-stop in space for six to seven hours. So, the EVA is a great test for both our physical and psychological states.

“Fortunately, following the scientific training we received on the ground, we have so far completed two EVAs successfully and are confident we can complete all the ensuing EVAs,” she added.

China’s space programme

China aims to become a leading space power in the world by 2045, according to the road map prepared by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation in 2018.

With the development of the Tiangong space station, the republic is well on its way to achieving its target.

The launch of the Mengtian experiment module on Nov 2 marks the final stage of the space station’s construction.

China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao, who was present at the ASEAN Students Talk with Taikonauts session, said the country plans to share its expertise in space technology with ASEAN member states to further strengthen cooperation and relations between China and the region.

“In recent years, space has become a new field, a new path in cooperation between China and ASEAN. We have carried out exchanges and cooperation in space technology applications, communication satellites and space surveying and mapping and have achieved excellent results,” he said.

ASEAN-China Centre (ACC) secretary-general Shi Zhongjun said ACC will continue to play its role as a bridge to encourage closer cooperation in the space sector and will actively involve the two parties (China and ASEAN) in relevant international collaborations and exchanges.

“ASEAN and China share a common dream for space exploration. We are confident humanity will continue to benefit from the peaceful exploration and use of space,” he added.

In Malaysia, meanwhile, its space sector development is spearheaded by the Malaysian Space Agency.

Orthopaedic surgeon Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor Sheikh Mustapha was the first Malaysian astronaut to be sent to space. On Oct 10, 2007, he was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station (ISS) on Soyuz TMA-11 spaceship with American astronaut Peggy Whitson and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.

Upon his return after his 12-day space mission, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar became a national celebrity and his daily schedule was packed with, among other activities, visits to schools to give talks to students.

During his stay at the ISS, he successfully carried out various experiments with proteins and studied the effects of microgravity and space radiation on cells and microbes.

In 2018, he was quoted as saying that he hoped the Malaysian government will send a second astronaut to space by 2030 with the help of China.-Bernama

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