The vast sky has fascinated humanity for millennia, but it was only in the last century that we were able to travel beyond our home planet. Our curiosity has led us to reach for the stars: we already sent several of our kind to the Moon and created numerous machines that are currently exploring the vast unknown of space.
In the early years of the 2000s, nations that have successfully sent humans into space set their sights on launching crewed probes to Mars, in the hope of expanding our presence and prolonging our existence in the universe. But are we ready to rocket into another planet? Or is it too difficult, like the proverbial rocket science?
On its return, the Keystone Education Salon heard about the progress of Chinese crewed spaceflight, directly from a spacecraft designer himself. Aerospace engineer and professor Hong Yang, who has played a significant role in the research and development of this field, addressed an audience of eager students and parents at the Keystone Performing Arts Center (PAC) on January 8.
Yang, a current professor at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and a permanent fellow of the International Academy of Astronautics, has been involved in the Shenzhou program, serving as its deputy chief designer. He was part of the historic Shenzhou 5 crewed mission.
During Professor Yang’s presentation and question-and-answer session, students flourished Chinese flags to commemorate the historic achievements of China in the field of space exploration.
Yang talked about the significance of the space programs of China, explaining that Chinese satellites set out to test technologies and conduct scientific research to prepare humans for spaceflight. He also talked about the successful launch of Shenzhou 5 in 2003, which put into space Liwei Yang, the first Chinese astronaut.
Aside from sharing a general overview of spacecraft and China's ''three-step'' space program, Yang also told stories of dealing with adversity during their research. The young audience was impressed by the dedication and conscientiousness of Chinese astronauts and the people behind every spacecraft launch.
However, Yang highlighted that “one spaceship success does not equal maturity” or a fully ready space program.
“One success does not mean subsequent successes. These are a few words that we have learned and summarized during the program,” the professor explained further. “The safety of astronauts is in the hands of each of our designers. My predecessor asked me, ‘If you were an astronaut, would you dare to take the spacecraft you designed? You should treat yourself as an astronaut to see if you can dare to get on board.’”
Professor Yang also looked forward to the future development of crewed spacecraft engineering. He shared stories of the modest yet pragmatic and prudent but rigorous work style of astronauts, telling students a belief that astronauts live by: "Face the unknown with a clear head. Everything starts from scratch, but success is the last work.''
Exploring the Unknown
Before the start of the question-and-answer session, sixth grader Mark Miao performed his rendition of “I Love the Blue Sky of the Motherland.” The young students in the audience continued to brandish their flags, with eighth-grader host Yi Gao noting the intense feeling of pride that “inspires everyone to have a passion for exploring the unknown.”
In the session, students asked Professor Yang about his career as a spacecraft designer. Yang said he wanted to be an engineer because his hometown of Changbai had only one when he was young. He later learned that engineering has many fields. Another student inquired about the hardest part of designing spacecraft, to which he responded reducing the risk of failure, especially for crewed missions.
"We have never thought of giving up,'' he emphasized.
One student followed up, saying that humans have already landed on our celestial companion. He asked the professor which planet he thinks humans will soon visit.
"Our dreams will bring us far. We develop the space industry to be able to utilize resources in space and conduct experiments for the benefit of our planet,'' Yang answered.
Marketing and Communications Director and salon organizer Sabrina Liu wrapped up the event with a passage from “Who Speaks for Earth?”, the final chapter of Cosmos written by the renowned astronomer and author Carl Sagan:
We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.
“We believe that the future depends on our understanding and discovery of the universe,” Liu added. “We are born of the universe, and our destiny is closely intertwined with it. The source of the universe is calling us and we are eager to return because this call comes from our birthplace. Let’s get on board; it's time to set off for the stars.”
About the Keystone Education Salon Speaker
Mr. Hong Yang is currently a professor at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), where he has worked since receiving his master’s degree there in 1991. Professor Yang was the chief designer of Tiangong-1 and the deputy chief designer of the Shenzhou series of crewed spacecraft. Professor Yang is a Permanent Fellow of the International Academy of Astronautics.
His stellar work in the field of spacecraft design has earned him various accolades, including winning the prestigious China National Scientific and Technological Prize twice, in 2004 and 2013. His recent research interests also include information engineering and systems engineering.