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Seasonal 'rocket chasers' ignite aerospace tourism boom in China

Updated: 2024-01-23 17:06 ( Xinhua )
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At homestays along the Qishui Bay in Longlou township, visitors can watch rocket launches from balconies.[Photo/Xinhua]

In the hush of the night, a blaze of brilliance pierced the darkness, its fiery ascent thundering through the clouds.

On the sandy beaches, rooftops and balconies of high-rise residential buildings in Longlou, a quaint township in southern China, all eyes turned skyward, as the resounding rumble of the carrier rocket and the thunderous roar of the crowd swept over this town located in Wenchang city in the island province of Hainan.

Where dreams take flight

Last week, the launch of the Long March-7 Y8 rocket, carrying the Tianzhou-7 cargo spacecraft from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, not only illuminated the night sky but also breathed life into Longlou, where the launchpad is located.

Every time a launch is scheduled, throngs of tourists embark on a journey. They fly to the provincial capital Haikou before transferring to a high-speed train bound for Wenchang and conclude the trip with a short drive of over 20 km to reach Longlou. Then, the streets here buzz with activity, with vehicles flooding in and hotels fully booked.

For 29-year-old Zhang Zuoxing, an avid astrophotographer from Guangdong province in South China, witnessing a rocket launch is not just a visual feast; it's a multisensory experience that evokes a sense of wonder and awe.

"The rocket ascended quietly. It was a few seconds later that I heard the roaring noise. Despite the continuous cheers and screams around me, those few seconds made me feel as if I were in a vacuum. It was almost like a dream," Zhang said, recalling his first-ever experience of witnessing a rocket launch in 2020.

Driven by a desire to share this profound experience with more people, Zhang and his friends founded the youth travel organization "Walking at 20" in 2020. Since its inception, he has visited Wenchang 13 times to watch rocket launches.

This time, Zhang was accompanied by 16 fellow travelers and they watched the Long March-7 Y8 rocket from a quiet beach. "They were very excited, and many of them had already booked the next trip with me," he said.

He has led over 300 individuals spanning various age groups to witness rocket launches. Seasonal rocket enthusiasts are driven by different motivations, Zhang said, noting that some are fueled by curiosity while others by a thirst for knowledge.

"Rocket chasing" has become an addictive pursuit for Tang Muzhi, a sophomore student studying material science at Northwest Minzu University.

The recent launch of the Tianzhou-7 cargo spacecraft marked his third visit to Wenchang, with his initial experience dating back to July 2022, when he witnessed the launch of Wentian, the first lab module of China's space station.

"Seeing the massive object ascend into the sky transformed textbook descriptions into a tangible reality. At that moment, I truly understood the nation's rapid development and felt as if I was becoming a part of the current of the times," Tang said. "I will never forget that big day."

Wang Jianjun, a 70-year-old tourist, makes sure to bring his grandson to the launch site for every rocket launch. "I aim to plant the seed of space dreams in my grandson's heart. Experiencing the space launch firsthand will undoubtedly leave a more profound impression than any words I could convey to him," he said.

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