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Daughter of Chinese astronaut recalls Shenzhou-7 mission, false fire alarm

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-01-14 19:39

BEIJING -- A People's Liberation Army's (PLA) newspaper on Sunday published an article by Liu Qianting, daughter of astronaut Liu Boming, on her father's flight on Shenzhou-7.

Liu Boming, Zhai Zhigang and Jing Haipeng took part in the Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008, during which Zhai made the first spacewalk by a Chinese astronaut.

In the article carried by the PLA Daily, Liu Qianting said her family held a "family meeting" every Saturday and her father would tell his stories to her.

Her father was fascinated by space and a huge fan of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Neil Armstrong, the first to walk on the moon, when he was a middle school student. He signed up for the PLA astronaut program without hesitation.

Liu Qianting said her father was selected for Shenzhou-7 in 2008 and started four months of intense training while she was preparing for her senior middle school entrance exam, but her father managed to make time to see her at school before the mission.

"I will never forget the day on Sept. 25, 2008, when the spacecraft blasted off, carrying my father, as well as my mother's heart and mine, into space," she said. "That night, I found my mother a little perturbed. I told her that 'everything will be fine, and we should have a rest first and see the latest update next morning'."

"But the next morning, I found her sleeping on the sofa with the TV still on."

Liu Qianting recalled the moment when the live broadcast showed her father and Zhai preparing for the spacewalk when a fire alarm rang out.

"My mother and I were both terrified. I knew that a fire in such circumstance had killed American astronaut Edward White," she said. "My strength vanished and I could not hear any sound at all."

What was worse, the spacecraft left the monitoring zone and there was no image or sound.

"The seconds seemed to last for a century, and we finally heard the conversation between my father and Zhai."

Liu Boming told Zhai to "hang on and carry out the mission anyway."

"I burst into tears suddenly, and realized that for my father and other astronauts, the mission always outweighs their own lives."

A spokesperson with China's manned space program explained later that the fire alarm was caused by a sensor error.

Liu Qianting said that before the Shenzhou-7 module returned to Earth, she visited the mission command center and talked with her father in space.

"I asked him what space looked like. 'The twinkling stars are just under my feet. They are very, very beautiful,' he answered."

Shenzhou-7 returned to Earth after about three days in space and the spacewalk by Zhai made China the third country to conduct extravehicular activity in space, following the United States and Russia.

Liu Qianting said she joined the army after graduation from university and now works for the space program.

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