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One giant leap

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James Reynolds | 11:28 UK time, Saturday, 27 September 2008

flagwaving203_afp.jpgWere you watching? China's just carried out its first ever space walk (broadcast live on almost every channel here).

Colonel Zhai Zhigang - the son of a woman who used to sell sunflower seeds - squeezed himself out of the hatch of his Shenzhou 7 spacecraft. As he got out, he made sure to tether himself with red cables - you don't want to become your country's first ever spacewalker only to find yourself floating away.

For China his mission is as much about national pride as anything else. So, Col Zhai made sure to wave a Chinese flag during his quick hover above his spacecraft. For China this single image is worth all the money it's spending on its space programme.

After a quarter of an hour, the astronaut got back inside. China says that his short walk is a vital step in its plans to build a space station, and then send men off to the Moon and Mars.

This is a country that spent decades feeling left behind - and even picked on - by the rest of the world. But this year that feeling has begun to change. It's hard to carry on feeling like a victim when your country hosts the Olympic Games and then does its victory lap in space.


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