The Taikonauts’ Sons

Pretty much all of the Chinese high school students who attended Space Camp last month were exceptional, but two of the 16-year-olds stood out even in select company.

Pretty much all of the 67 Chinese high school students who attended a special five-day Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, last month were exceptional in some way, says Tim Hall of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. “I was impressed — they obviously had a great understanding of math and science.”

But two of the 16-year-olds stood out even in select company: “Mark” Yang and Tianxiong Zhai, who in America finds it easier to go by “Jack.” Both boys’ fathers have been in space. Mark is the son of Yang Liwei,  China’s first astronaut, who flew on the Shenzhou 5 mission in 2003. And three years ago tomorrow, Jack’s father, Zhai Zhigang, performed the country’s first spacewalk on Shenzhou 7.

Jack in one of Space Camp's mission modules. (Photo: Space Camp)

Yang Liwei and son. (Photo: Space Camp)

The two astro-sons visited as China prepares for its next step in space, an unmanned docking with a target vehicle that could launch as early as this week according to Chinese press reports.

It was the second trip to Space Camp for Yang, who like his friend Zhai lives in a neighborhood near the astronaut training center in Beijing and attends a university preparatory school focused on science and technology.

This time Yang’s cousin came along, but no parents. The Space Camp “missions” included a simulated spacewalk and shuttle launch, as well as simulated aerial combat. Despite their famous fathers, Mark and Jack acted like any other teenager interested in space and aviation, says Hall. In fact, at one point Yang made it clear he was done talking about being the son of a national hero. “My father’s my father, and I am I,” he said in response to one question. End of discussion.

Jack (left) and Mark in the U.S. Space and Rocket Center's 3D Theater. (Photo: Space Camp)

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