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Tongue-tied, but totally in control

By Zhao Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-29 09:27

I like watching the promotional videos released by SpaceX because their blend of spectacular scenes and good soundtracks is always inspiring and brings emotional satisfaction.

It is fair to say that those visually and acoustically enjoyable advertising clips are the major source of my knowledge of, and respect, for the United States' company's audacious endeavors.

By comparison, promotional videos created by China's space authorities and contractors are nowhere near as exciting and attractive, if I may say so. They don't tell their story well, often look prosaic and always use the same music for the soundtrack.

That description can also be applied to the nation's space workers, such as the spacecraft control specialists I interviewed at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in a northwestern suburb of the capital.

They are brilliant at their jobs, but they always appear a little tongue-tied when I ask them to share their own stories with me.

Wang Cheng, a senior engineer with the center's Tianwen 1 mission team, had heart stent surgery in November. The doctors told him that his condition had partly been caused by working long hours, and they urged him not to overtax himself.

However, after he was discharged from the hospital, Wang quickly returned to his job and resumed a punishing schedule, working day and night until the condition reemerged and forced him to see a doctor again.

I learned this from Wang's colleague Liu Shaoran, a senior controller who has been involved with the Tianwen 1 mission since the launch of the probe in July.

Wang, who was sitting next to Liu, told me, "This is not worth writing about."

Liu responded, "We all understand that health is the foundation of one's life and work, but when my colleagues are faced with such important tasks, they put considerations about their own health aside and devote themselves to their work.

"In fact, many private companies have contacted our professionals, offering much higher salaries, but most of them chose to stay. Why? Because they are convinced that what they are doing here is worth it, and also because they want to be part of the motherland's space exploration efforts."

He added that a lot of people at the center have made sacrifices in their private lives to aid their work, but they would never tell a reporter like me about those things.

"Just like many other people striving for our space program, they are the reason China's space industry has achieved so much and has risen so rapidly in the global space sector," he said.

I can testify to the truth of his words, having witnessed the country's lunar exploration efforts which landed a rover on the far side of the moon-something no other nation has accomplished. They also brought samples of lunar soil back to Earth 44 years after the last moon rocks returned from the silver sphere.

I have also covered the construction of a global navigation satellite network that has ended China's reliance on foreign systems.

Now, I am looking forward to watching the launch of a colossal rocket that will place the core capsule of China's space station in orbit many hundreds of kilometers above the Earth.

So, though Wang, Liu and their colleagues may not be good storytellers, they will always be remembered and thanked for the pride and glory they have created for China and its people.

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