I'm a bit disappointed in us, or rather I should say the news media, for overlooking a wonderful story that was reported on Sunday, Sept 27.Let me dissemble a little. Things were hectic and busy over the weekend. The financial markets were in turmoil and the political environment had grown increasingly toxic. We had executive versus Congress, and Wall Street versus Main Street. Perhaps it is to be forgiven that virtually no one in America knows the name Zhai Zigang.
No, Stop guessing. It is not the name of the choreographer for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" Nor is it the name of the fight scene coordinator for the "Matrix" movie franchise.
I can provide a little hint though. How many of us (of a certain age) remember the name Ed White. Some of us may remember that he was one of our space heroes that we lost on the ground in the tragic fire aboard the Apollo 1 back in 1967.
Give up? Well as well as being one of our tragic heroes, he was also one of our first pioneers in the early days of space exploration.
On July 3, 1965, Ed White became the first American to do what came to be called a space walk. Linked to the Gemini 4 spacecraft by a 25-foot umbilical tether, Ed white left the relative safety of that early space vessel to hover like a strange hummingbird out side of the two-man space capsule.
In his right hand he held a miniature rocket gun to maneuver outside of the ship. The fuel for that little booster lasted all of three minutes. He was able to get back to the capsule by twisting his body in his bulky space suit and pulling himself hand-over-hand by the umbilical back to the security of the tiny cocoon that would soon return him and his crewmate, James McDivitt, safely back to earth.
I think that many of us that were old enough to be glued to the TV were indeed rapt viewing this great achievement. This was, of course, at the height of the cold war and every U.S. achievement was vicariously a source of American pride.
Let's telescope back to the future. The name Zhai Zigang belongs to the first Chinese space walker. This happened just a few days ago at the orbiting spacecraft Shenzhou 7.
I wonder how many of you knew that the Chinese even had a sophisticated space program. How many of us know that China launches its own communications satellites, and I would not be surprised, its own spy satellites. This is a wonderful achievement for any nation, but created hardly a ripple in the American news media. It was actually reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer on page 17 - page 17!
The Chinese space agency also has plans for its own independent space station sharing orbit with the ISS (International Space Station). The Chinese have also announced a mission to the moon within the Decade.
Some of you may remember the speech that John F. Kennedy made in the early 1960s to accomplish the same thing. It may in fact occur that the Chinese will have landed on the moon before we return to it. Interesting.
At any rate, my congratulations, for whatever they are worth go out to Zhai and his two crewmates for navigating their own path to the future. We may wake up to quite a surprise some day soon as we hear words from our moon through translators.
The Orionid meteor shower may present a nice display in the very early morning of Oct. 22. The moon will be in its last quarter and so fairly bright still. It might well worth bundling up for an hour or so and enjoying the sight. The October Orionids are caused by the earth passing through the debris path left by Halley's comet. Look to the east as the constellation Orion rises as it ushers in the winter stars.
o Roger Taylor is an amateur astronomer and a member of the Astronomical League.