Students who undertake distance learning courses are used to having tutors who live in a distant city, or even a different country altogether – but what about a tutor who’s not even on this planet? That’s what more than 60 million students in China experienced on June 20th, when Wang Yaping – the second Chinese woman to go into orbit – beamed a lecture onto state television from the Chinese Space Station.
Astronauts aboard the Tiangong 1 space station demonstrated the effects of weightlessness on themselves and fielded questions on a variety of topics – including how to fry an egg, take a bath, and keep fit in space. The live lesson also included physics topics such as Newton’s second law of motion – as Wang Yaping pushed a fellow astronaut across the room with a touch of her finger – and the surface tension of water.
Speaking to the New Scientist, Dean Cheng of Washington-based policy research group the Heritage Foundation said the exercise is evidence of China’s growing space capabilities, which has traditionally been dominated by Russia and the USA. “So long as the money holds out and political stability reigns, they might well get to some place like Mars or establish a lunar presence, precisely because they are persistent and willing to spend the money and make the effort,” he said.