The first Chinese astronaut thought he was going to die

Enlarge / Astronaut Yang Liwei lies in the re-entry capsule of Shenzhou-5 Spacecraft during a training on September 27, 2003 in Beijing, China. (credit: VCG via Getty Images)

Later this year, China will mark the 15th anniversary of its first human spaceflight. On October 15, 2003, Yang Liwei launched into space on a Long March 2F rocket. After making 14 orbits around Earth, Liwei returned to the planet as China received congratulations from countries around the world. It had succeeded where only the United States and Russia had before.

At the time, the secretive Chinese government released few technical details about the spaceflight. But apparently there were some serious problems, especially during the launch of the rocket. In a new interview with Xinhua, the official Chinese news media, Yang revealed that he experienced extreme vibrations between 30 and 40km above the ground.

"I thought I was going to die," Yang said. At the time, sitting in the seat of his cramped Shenzhou spacecraft, he recalled telling himself, "Hold on! Just hold on for a bit longer."

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