First space lecture opens new horizons for China
A special lecture began Thursday morning, given by a teacher aboard a space module about 340 km above her students on Earth.
Female astronaut Wang Yaping, one of three crew members aboard the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft, greeted about 330 primary and middle school students at a Beijing high school through a live video feed.
"Hello everyone. I am Wang Yaping. I will host the lecture today," she said, smiling toward a camera onboard the space module Tiangong-1.
Wang and her crew members set off for outer space aboard the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft on June 11. The spacecraft docked with the Tiangong-1 on June 13.
The students she addressed were gathered at the High School Affiliated with Renmin University.
"I was very excited after learning that I could come to this class," said Luo Jiangyuan, a high school freshman who said he plans to study science in college.
"When I learned about the laws of physics and weightless conditions in class, I had to imagine what would happen. But in today's class, I've been able to see what really happens. It is thrilling," he said.
More than 60 million students and teachers at about 80,000 middle schools across the country also watched the live broadcast on TV.
Nie Haisheng, commander of the crew, made a show of putting his legs into a meditation position while floating in the air. Such a show can only be seen in martial arts movies but unable to be achieved by any Kungfu masters in reality on Earth.
"Thanks to the weightless conditions, we are all masters," Wang joked.
Wang showed the students how astronauts measure their weight in the orbiter using a special scale, as normal scales operating under the influence of gravity do not work in outer space.
She also conducted several demonstrations to show how "gravity" works in space, using both fixed and mobile gyros to demonstrate physics concepts.
She demonstrated how zero gravity magnifies the surface tension of water by using a metal ring and a bag filled with water to create a ball of water that was suspended in the air.
"I like all these demonstrations, the gyro and water ball ones particularly. They are all impossible on Earth. How wonderful," said Qian Jianghao, a 10-year-old primary school student.
The students raised a number of questions for the astronauts, asking them how they can tell up from down in space, as well as inquiring about their water recycling system and their view of Earth from the orbiter.
"Through the front windows, we can see Earth and many stars. But we haven't seen any UFOs," Wang said.
The stars in space are brighter, but do not twinkle, she said.
"I tell you a wonderful phenomenon: we can see sunrises 16 times a day, as we circle the Earth every 90 minutes," she said.
At the end of the class, the three astronauts extended their regards to the students.
"I hope all of you will study hard, learn more and contribute to the Chinese dream," said Nie.
"Outer space is deep and has numerous mysteries. Exploration is limitless and we should work together in this regard," said Zhang Xiaoguang, one of the crew.
Born in east China's Shandong Province, the 33-year-old Wang is China's second female astronaut after Liu Yang, who entered the record books after participating in the Shenzhou-9 mission, which took place in June 2012.
The world's first teacher in space was Christa McAuliffe, a 37-year-old middle school teacher from the United States. She was aboard the space shuttle Challenger when it disintegrated 73 seconds after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986. McAuliffe and her other six crewmates were killed.
Barbara Morgan, McAuliffe's backup for the mission, taught the first lesson in space in 2007, when she was sent to the International Space Station via the space shuttle Endeavor. Via a video feed, she showed students how to exercise and drink water in space.
Millions of ordinary Chinese were as excited as children in the classroom.
Nineteen-year-old Lu Huihui watched the TV live broadcast at the hair salon where she worked as an assistant.
"All the demonstrations are really wonderful and interesting. But, to be honest, I do not get what the teacher talked about, such as those laws of physics," said the young girl from a rural family who dropped out in her third year at the junior middle school.
"After the lecture, it struck me that I could search a bit about the knowledge of the space on line when I am off," she said.
Professor Zhang Chunli from Beijing Normal University said Wang's space lecture is a landmark achievement.
"Space programs used to be hush-hush projects involving only scientists and astronauts. But today, ordinary people, especially young people, turned from spectators to participants, which is of great significance," she said.
She said she expects the lesson to encourage more young people to engage in scientific exploration.
The space lesson is aimed at making astronomy more popular, as well as inspiring enthusiasm for science, said Zhou Jianping, designer-in-chief of China's manned space program, who added that the lesson will also help to build experience for similar activities in the future.
"The spirit of science of the youth is an important drive for the progress of mankind," said Zhou. "Space activities can help them build up the spirit of seeking science and facing challenges."