It is a matter of irony. China's first man in space, Yang Liwei, was scared of heights when he was a child, but rose to become the first man in space in his country eight years ago. He took off on October 15,2003, flew 500,000 kms in his 21-hour space flight which launched China into the manned space programme.
This is revealed in his recently-published autobiography, ``The Long March To Space.'' ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' is keen on obtaining a copy of this book, but is also aware that it will not be easy since Chinese books are not readily available at Indian bookstores. Anyway BMM will keep hunting for it.
Based on the book, China Daily recently interviewed him He is now the deputy director of China's Manned Space Engineering Office. In the interview he said: ``The book is my story and our story: the story of my fellow astronauts and those who have devoted themselves to the country's space programme.'' According to him, prior to the launch he and his fellow taikonauts (as astronauts and cosmonauts are known in China), were literally unknown.
Recalls Yiwei: `` When my mother asked me to fetch sweet potatoes from a four-metre tall wooden shed roof, I became so nervous I broke into cold sweat and could'nt do it. It was my parents who took every opportunity to develop my courage until I climbed a 30-metre pine tree one day,'' he said.
According to him, the toughest part of his life was in 1993 when he learned to fly a fighter. In 1996 having logged 1350 flying hours, Yang participated in a screening process for selection of astronauts. Out of the 1500 candidates, he was one of the 14 selected to train at the astronaut centre in Beijing.``After endless rounds of overloaded training, I arrived at one rule. When you hold on till you think you can't you are close to success,'' he said.
His selection was made public only the day before the historic flight. In his book he has described what he saw in the interior of the space capsule. ``What I saw is testimony to the advance of China's manned space technology. I jotted down a line in my log to express my excitement and pride,'' he says.