The launch of Shenzhou V carrying the first Chinese astronaut into outer space indicates that a dream cherished by the Chinese people and their leaders of all generations has been realized.
China abounds in fairy tales related to outer space, one about a woman of surpassing beauty flying to the moon after taking some miraculous medicine, where she stays as the Goddess of Moon. The goddess, named Chang'e, has been a most popular theme in traditional Chinese painting, poetry and drama.
Nevertheless, it was until Oct. 4, 1957 did the Chinese people and their leaders come to realize that they needed to translate such fairy tales into reality if the country was to become truly powerful. On that day, an aluminum ball 58 centimeters in diameter was sent into outer space by the former Soviet Union.
Realizing how far China had fallen behind in science and technology development, the late Chairman Mao Zedong declared, "We, too, must make man-made satellites!"
Under Mao's command, China lost no time to pool its resources for research of space technology. Pioneering the endeavor were research institutes and universities in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Tianjin and other major cities. Under plans worked out by a team of top-notch experts, China was to launch space exploration rockets first, followed by launching of satellites up to 200 kilograms in weight and then satellites weighing several tons.
But, before long, these plans were derailed. From 1959 to 1961,famine visited virtually all parts of China. As the late Deng Xiaoping put it, "satellite launching would not correspond to the national strength" when the Chinese population, then numbering 700million, were hungry.
Deng Xiaoping was then general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee. He was to become the chief architect of China's reforms and opening two decades later.
China's space exploration plans were derailed, but were not given up. On Feb. 19, 1960, the very first rocket designed and built exclusively by China was launched somewhere near Shanghai. The rocket, in fact a crude prototype, soared only eight kilometers high before it fell to the ground.
Despite that, it is recognized as representing the first step, the most crucial step, taken by China in a long march toward outer space.
On April 24, 1970, China sent its first man-made satellite into orbit, indicating that it had entered the space era. Before that, in 1969, plans had been made on selection of air force pilots to be trained into astronauts and, in the following year, a list of 19 candidates was prepared under the auspices of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force.
Four years after the former Soviet Union launched its first man-made satellite, Yuri Gagarin became the first spaceman on April 12,1961, and four years after the United States launched its first man-made satellite, Alan Shepard was sent into orbit on Feb. 20 in1962.
China, however, had to shelve its space flight plans, now that the national economy had been brought to the verge of collapse by the chaotic "Cultural Revolution."
In March 1986, four most prominent Chinese scientists proposed to Deng Xiaoping ways of developing high technologies in China. Deng Xiaoping, who took the helm of China after Mao died, responded positively to the proposal that was to be dubbed as the 863 High-Tech Program.
The 863 High-Tech Program injected life into the country's space exploration endeavor.
At a meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on Sept. 21, 1992, Jiang Zemin called for "determined efforts" to develop manned space flight. This, he said, would be important to the country's political, economic, scientific and technological developments.
Jiang was general secretary of the CPC Central Committee and president of the People's Republic of China.
On Nov. 20, 1999, China's first experimental spacecraft, "Shenzhou," was launched at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu Province, northwestern China, by a "Long March" carrier rocket.
On Jan. 10, 2001, Shenzhou-2 was launched. It was basically identical to a manned craft.
On March 25, 2002, China launched its third unmanned craft, Shenzhou-3, and nine months afterwards, on Dec. 30, Shenzhou-4 was sent into outer space.
On Oct. 15, 2003, the dream of the Chinese leaders of all generations to send a man into outer space, in fact the dream of the Chinese nation, turned into a brilliant reality.
(Xinhua News Agency October 15, 2003)