News24

Chinese astronauts visit Hong Kong

2012-08-10 17:03

Hong Kong - Three astronauts from China's first manual space docking mission received a rowdy welcome from hundreds of flag-waving children as they arrived in Hong Kong on Friday for a four-day visit.

Astronauts Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang and Liu Yang, China's first female in space, successfully completed China's first manual space docking with the orbiting Tiangong-1 module in June, becoming national heroes.

Wearing blue jump suits and flanked by officials and military chiefs, the astronauts posed stiffly for the cameras after arriving in the southern city at the invitation of Hong Kong's government.

"I'm very happy that I met the astronauts. I want to be an astronaut in the future because I want to see what space looks like," said Joe Yu, 10, one of the students at the airport.

Nancy Wong, 10, said she was pleased to see the astronauts but had no intention of pursuing a career in space.

Propaganda stunt

"I don't want to be an astronaut because the rocket goes into the air very fast like a roller coaster. It's frightening," she said.

Some people queued overnight on Tuesday to snap up tickets to see the astronauts at a variety show on Saturday, local media reported.

The official Xinhua news agency described the trip to the former British colony as a "charm offensive", but some residents dismissed it as an empty propaganda stunt.

"There's no meaning in inviting them to Hong Kong - it's just a show," said 38-year-old clerk Stanley So, adding that the whole trip was a waste of the city government's money.

More than 40 people accompanied the astronauts from Beijing, including what Xinhua called "key commanders" and designers of China's manned space programme.

Aside from the variety show, the astronauts are due to meet students on Saturday and open a space exhibition the following day before leaving on Monday for the nearby territory of Macau.

The docking procedure marked a major milestone in an ambitious Chinese space programme that aims to build a space station by the end of the decade.

China has said it will land its first exploratory craft on the moon in 2013.

Beijing sees its space programme as a symbol of its rising global stature and technical expertise, and of the Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.