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June
Space Museum features "Legends of Manned Spaceflights"

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From tomorrow, June 11, until November 17, the Hong Kong Space Museum presents its latest Sky Show, Legends of Manned Space Flights, which tells the story of all those who have heroically ventured into space for the benefit of mankind.

From the very beginning, man dreamed of being able to fly. Such dreams gave rise to myths, legends and science fiction. The Greeks told the story of Icarus, who used wings to escape from the labyrinth, while the ancient Chinese recounted the flight of Chang'e to the moon. In 1865, the French writer Jules Verne published "From the Earth to the Moon", a work of science fiction about lunar explorers travelling in a bullet-shaped spaceship launched by a cannon.

Of course, space travel would became a reality only with the development of sophisticated, self-propelled rockets. However, we tend to forget just how old an invention rockets are. As early as the 13th century, Chinese soldiers of the Song Dynasty used rockets against the northern invaders. These consisted of an arrow and an explosive tube packed with charcoal, sulphur, and saltpetre. When this fuel was set alight, the gases it discharged propelled the rocket forward.

It was not until 1926 that an American, Robert Goddard, launched the world's first liquid fuel rocket. Though it stayed aloft for only 2.5 seconds, it ushered in the era of modern rocketry and space travel.

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into orbit around Earth. The USSR continued to progress rapidly, and in 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, completing one orbit of the Earth in his Vostok 1 spacecraft. In the meantime the United States established NASA in 1958, and the space race between the two nations took off in earnest.

America was soon matching the Soviet achievements in manned orbital flight. It recorded another triumph in 1965 as Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 became the first craft to rendezvous in space. Then in July 1969 came the Apollo 11 mission in which Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

China's space programme began in the 1970s with the launch of satellites. In November 1999, it launched and retrieved Shenzhou 1, its first spacecraft capable of manned flight, at the Jiuquen Satellite Launch Centre. China expects to launch its first manned space mission, Shenzhou 5, this autumn.

Now the main focus of the space programme is our ability to remain in space for long periods. The US launched a space station known as Skylab in 1973 and began developing the Space Shuttle around the same time. In 1986, the Soviets launched Mir, the first space station capable of long-term operation.

In the 1990s, NASA began to promote the development of an even larger space platform, the International Space Station, requiring the collaboration of 16 countries. When completed as early as 2006, the International Space Station will be a platform for long-term scientific and medical experiments that could help pave the way for missions to Mars.

Of course, space exploration has not always been smooth. The heart-breaking loss of two space shuttles -- the Challenger in January 1986 and the Columbia only this January -- has left deep scars.

"Legends of Manned Spaceflights", produced by the Space Museum, shows how courage and daring made the dream of space travel come true, paying tribute to the bravery and selflessness of the astronauts and cosmonauts.

And in an interesting digression, it examines the claims of some conspiracy theorists that the moon landings were faked.

The 38-minute Sky Show will be screened at 2.40pm and 6.10pm daily at the Space Theater of the Museum. There is an additional show at 11.10am on Sundays and public holidays. The Museum is closed Tuesdays, except public holidays.

Tickets are available at the Space Museum Box Office and at all URBTIX outlets at $24 (front stalls) and $32 (stalls), with half-price concessions for full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

The Space Museum is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. For further information, please call 2721 0226 or visit the Museum's website at http://hk.space.museum.

End/Tuesday, June 10, 2003

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