Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, two former fighter pilots from southern China, will be in space soon aboard China's second manned spacecraft Shenzhou-6 Wednesday morning.
Astronauts Nie Haisheng (left) and Fei Junlong solute during a ceremony commemorating the success of China's second manned space mission in Beijing October 25, 2005. The event, organized by the Central Military Commission and the headquarters of the People's Liberation Army, is to honor the researchers and soldiers involved in the space project. [Xinhua]
A native of Kunshan City, Jiangsu Province, Fei, 40, did not expect he could have the honor to become an astronaut piloting Shenzhou-6 when he dreamed about being a professional painter in his childhood.
The most remarkable difference between Fei and Yang Liwei, China's first man in space who orbited the earth 14 times during a 21-hour mission in October 2003, is that Fei is one of a few top pilots in the country.
"In preparation for the flight of Shenzhou-5, China's first manned spacecraft carrying Yang in space, Fei was one of the five candidates under the final intensive training," Yang told Xinhua.
In 1982, China's Air Force recruited trainees at Fei's high school when he was about to graduate. Fei was enrolled.
Two years later, Fei graduated from the Flight Training School of the Air Force with excellent marks. Then he served as flight trainer initially and was appraised as outstanding in the whole Air Force. Later on, he became a flight technology inspector and compiled an investigation report on flight accidents, named "Warning Signal Tolling".
In July 1992 when he was in a trial flight, the aircraft being tested went short of fuel. With his outstanding flight skill, he managed to pilot the plane back to the airport. Upon the forced landing, fuel exhausted. His courage, skill and cool and calm mindset won him a special grade in piloting at the age of 32.
In January 1998, he was selected out of more than 1,500 elite pilots as a member of the astronaut brigade of the People's Liberation Army, together with Yang Liwei, Nie Haisheng and Zhai Zhigang.
Fei recorded excellent marks in almost all training subjects, ranging from basic theories to physical exercises, from professional skills to training of endurance and adaptability to the space environment, and from flight procedures and mission simulation to psychological and rescue training.
Fei did not tell his parents the real job he was undertaking. "What are you doing on earth?" his mother once asked. "Still flying, but much higher," Fei replied.
Fei's partner Nie Haisheng, 41 years old, came from Zaoyang City, Hubei Province. He was among the final candidates for China's first manned space flight and saw Yang Liwei off at the launch pad two years ago. Now 24 months have passed, Yang saw him off for a new space mission.
In the eye of Yang, Nie was persistent and dauntless, and at the same time, prudent. "He doesn't talk much. He is a hard-working and cooperative guy," Yang said.
A cowboy and the sixth child of a poor family with eight children, Nie cultivated a sort of patience and diligence that were seldom seen in common people.
In 1984, Nie entered the flight training school of the Air Force. On June 12, 1989, he was in an independent flight for the first time and the only engine of the plane came to a halt suddenly more than 4,000 meters above the ground.
The plane dived fast, and ground control ordered Nie to abandonthe vehicle and escape by parachute. But Nie risked his life trying to bring the plane back safely until it dropped to a heightof 400-500 meters from the ground. Upon his narrow escape, Nie wasawarded a third-class merit citation for his extraordinary courage.
Though selected as one of the final three candidates for the Shenzhou-5 mission two years ago, Nie has gone through strict screening procedures this time.
"We should never slacken our efforts to explore the mystery of space," Nie said.