Taikonauts, Wang Hu and the Elephant from heaven

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When Russians travelled into space during Soviet administration (USSR), the individuals (astronauts) were referred to as Cosmonauts (a word with routes in Greek words for universe and sailor). Similarly the Chinese call their astronauts “Taikonauts” combining the routes of the Chinese word for space (Taikong) and the Greek word for sailor (Naftis).  Chinese Taikonauts Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu left the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert in northwest China in Shenzhou-13 prepared to spend six months in Space.

The crewed space mission is expected to celebrate the Chinese New Year from the space for the first time in the Chinese history. Under the direction of Li Shangfu, commander of the China’s manned space program the three taikonauts started the country’s longest crewed space mission to construct China’s space station during the six months. Taikonaut Zhai was the officer who held the Chinese national flag and performed the country’s first spacewalk in 2008 in the same year China hosted the Being Olympics. Wang Yaping became the first female taikonaut to enter a space station and Ye Guangfu who joined the mission after more than a decade of training will create history as the youngest taikonaut so far.

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As per Chinese history an official from the Ming Dynasty during which China had the most powerful navy in the world under the command of Admiral Zheng He had attempted to enter space. Wang Hu can be considered as the world’s first astronaut according to those who research on the subject. The crater Wan Hoo on the Moon is named after him (Ref NASA list). He had tried to lift off by sitting on a chair fixed with rockets. The creators of the movie Kung Fu Panda may have got the idea from this story for the scene where the Panda try to lift off by fixing rockets onto a chair. However, Wan must have tried this since China has had advanced rocket and fireworks technology even during that period. Long before the Wright brothers developed the air craft and the Germans launched their V series rockets there have been humans ahead of times. Sri Lankans are special since from time immemorial they have been telling their young about how a villager went to heaven hanging on to a tail of an Elephant. We are still down.

The writer is an analyst with interests in the financial and sustainable development sectors with postgraduate exposure in the Far East (mahika.ming@gmail.com).

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