Chinese astronaut teaches 60 million kids from space

By Kristen Butler,  |  June 20, 2013 at 10:45 AM
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China's Shenzhou-10 launched June 10 on a 15-day mission to the Tiangong-1 orbiting space module, and astronauts on Thursday morning broadcast a science lesson to 60 million students and teachers across the country.

Taikonaut Wang Yaping, China's first teacher in space, carried out fundamental physics experiments onboard the orbiting Tiangong-1 space module. Wang demonstrated motion and surface tension of liquid in a micro-gravity environment, gyroscopic motion, pendulum motion and touched on weight, mass and Newton's Laws.

Wang interacted with more than 300 students gathered at the high school affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing. The students were invited by the Ministry of Education, representing different ethnic groups and migrant workers, as well as student representatives from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.

The experiments also inspired children from Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Often referred to as the "roof of the world," one student asked "will a spacecraft sent from Tibet reach space faster?"

The video lecture was broadcast on TV to 60 million students and teachers at 80,000 middle schools across the country. Classrooms not equipped with televisions could listen to the lecture via radio.

Principal Yue Deming and his students at Zhangjiagou Primary School missed out on the experience. "We can't afford a TV set, let alone high-tech educational devices like telescopes," said Yue, who is also the only teacher at the village school in north China's Hebei Province.

But in the spirit of the day, the 57-year-old educator gave his 18 students a simplified "space class" on Thursday. "If you had the chance to explore the universe, what would you do first?" he asked.

The gap in education access between students in rural and urban areas reflects China's uneven development, according to Gu Li, a researcher dedicated to primary and secondary education in east China's Jiangsu Province.

Compared with the lesson given by U.S. astronaut Barbara Morgan in 2007, the science lecture given by China's second woman in space was intended to include more difficult experiments.

"Morgan displayed the daily routine in space, such as drinking a beverage and carrying out physical exercises in space. Wang Yaping will focus more on the explanation of physics theories," said one source.

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