The last time another nation appeared on the space scene the United States panicked and youthful President John Fitzgerald Kennedy pushed us into a space race and ultimately to the moon. Sputnick started the sequence of events in 1957: suddenly a “Commie” satellite was orbiting overhead, watching us all. Then four scary Cold War years later, in 1961, Soviet Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth (American Alan Shepherd beat him off the Earth, but Shepherd never went above suborbital). At the time, Kennedy said: “all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventures in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of mastery of space.” [ref]
And today we welcome China to space with the successful 21-hour flight of Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei on the Shenzhou V. Fourteen full orbits around the Earth. As the People’s Daily says, “Please remember this great and glorious day! October 16, 2003 was the day when the Chinese nation’s thousand-year-old dream of flying to heavens came true. Be proud of our motherland! China has become the third country, after Russia and the United States, which has the ability to carry out the manned space flight activity!”
We live in interesting times. Who knows, perhaps the entry of China into the league of space-faring nations will help the United States expand our space program too? Regardless, my congratulations to astronaut Yang Liwei for attaining the dream of a nation!