The big story around China today – aside from the ongoing milk scandal – is the launch of Shenzhou VII, a space mission aimed at making China the third country in the world to accomplish a space walk. The story has been plastered all over Chinese media for weeks, and made world news today upon its launch.
China’s space program has made rapid gains in the past decade as it scrambles to keep ahead of Japan and India in the second wave of the space race. However, the program wasn’t always up to date on its technology. Sun Jiadong, chief of China’s first moon exploration project in 1970, detailed some of the challenges in the initial stages of development in an unusually forthcoming interview with a source CRI reporters didn’t feel the need to attribute.
“Workers etched Chairman Mao’s image on the surfaces of many components. What’s more, they made the designs as big and elaborate as possible. In that special environment, everyone did that. But in aerospace products it should be strictly forbidden, otherwise it would cause deadly problems due to uneven heating. But it wasn’t easy to say this then.”
Sun steeled his nerves and approached then Premier Zhou Enlai about the problem, thus saving the Dong Fang Hong satellite from bursting into flames from its faulty motherboards. No word on what the Great Helmsman thought about the engineers’ arts and crafts project.

For more on Shenzhou VII, check out this NYT article featuring a scarcely mentioned twist to the narrative.

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