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Chinese space rookie Tang Hongbo shares his experience in Tiangong space station

By Yu Jianbin, Zhan Kang, People’s Daily

Chinese taikonauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo went back from a three-month stay in the core module of China’s space station Tiangong in September this year.

For Tang, it was his first-ever mission to space. How was the trip and what impressions has it left on him? Let’s check out what the space rookie said in a recent interview with People’s Daily.

“I remember I had a dream the other night before we returned home. In that dream I went back to Earth and reunited with my family. I wanted to show them some space stunts but only found that I had already lost my ‘superpowers’ as my feet immediately touched the ground after I did a somersault. I suddenly felt a little sad,” Tang said, two months after he returned.

Back to 9:22 a.m. June 17, Tang was sitting tight in the Shenzhou-12 spaceship at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, waiting for his trip to start as the countdown began.

The rocket lifted off, with brilliant red-orange flames coming out of its boosters. Nie and Liu specifically left the seat near the porthole to Tang. After the rocket entered space, Tang eagerly opened the porthole and was immediately shocked by the splendid scenery outside. In the vast and tranquil space, the planet Earth is glowing with a blueish light, presenting serenity and magnificence. This deeply fascinated Tang, who went to space for the first time in his life.

About 6.5 hours later, the spaceship was docked with the core module Tianhe. Nie opened the hatch and the three crew members “floated” into their new “home” as the first dwellers of it.

A photo of the Atlantic Ocean taken by Tang Hongbo from space. (Photo from the official public account of China Manned Space on WeChat)
A photo of the Atlantic Ocean taken by Tang Hongbo from space. (Photo from the official public account of China Manned Space on WeChat)

They had to immediately start setting up the space station even though they had been working for 16 hours. However, as a newcomer to space, Tang didn’t adapt to the environment in space as fast as the other two astronauts did. At first, he was enjoying his “swimming” in the space station, but later his excitement turned into dizziness that made him sick. He had to stop working and rest in his “bedroom.”

The space station had a rich “bill of fare.” Scientific staff had prepared over 120 kinds of staple food, subsidiary food, instant food, drinks, functional food and seasoning, and the menu was shifted on a weekly basis. The high efficiency sterilization technology has significantly improved the quality and taste of subsidiary dishes, and both the variety and taste of the food were enriched. Yogurt was the only food in the space station that needed to be made fresh. It was made of a mixture of prefabricated yogurt and water after being heated for five hours.

The recipes were designed to make astronauts healthy and help them better complete their missions, with consideration to the astronauts’ personal preferences. Tang is from Hunan, a province known for its spicy food. He likes to cover his rice with chili sauce. Nie likes braised pork steak and rice cake, and Liu is a fan of rice cake with brown sugar. The three of them all love zongzi, a traditional Chinese rice dish made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves.

Tang said the first extravehicular activity has left him an unforgettable memory. He told People’s Daily that he thought he would be scared by the deep universe. However, he didn’t feel nervous at all after stepping out of the cabin.

The man had gone through hundreds of hours of training in extravehicular activities, so he was pretty adept at the operations wearing the new-generation extravehicular suit. It took him only 10 minutes to get into the cabin from outside during an extravehicular emergency drill, which was even faster than his record achieved on the ground.

When Tang looked around in space, he felt the universe was as shocking as what he had seen in sci-fi movies, with shining stars sparkling in the dark.

Photo of a bedroom in China’s space station taken by Tang Hongbo. (Photo from the official public account of China Manned Space on WeChat)
Photo of a bedroom in China’s space station taken by Tang Hongbo. (Photo from the official public account of China Manned Space on WeChat)

He said he missed his life on Earth when he was in space, too. He missed how his feet would touch the ground, as well as his family and friends. As long as he had spare time, he would sit beside the window staring at the Earth. Big white clouds were floating above the blue ocean in the daytime, and he also saw golden deserts, white snow mountains, green grasslands and brown mountains. The Earth was just like a bright crystal ball when viewed from space. In the night, the parts lighted up on the planet would make the Earth into a shiny pearl, Tang said.

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