CoFounder Planet Expedition Commander Academy, Explorers Club member, and Space Dreamer...
Looking up at the stars and yearning to explore the unknown depths of space must have been written by God into human genes. Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in western China have many inaccessible and barren desert landforms, similar to the Moon and Mars. When arriving in these geographic environments and looking up at the distant stars and gleaming Milky Way in the night sky, many tourists say: "I only know now that we live in the universe, this place is so alien!". Although China is a country with developed aerospace in the world, the aerospace industry is more like a symbol of pride for the country and the nation. Ordinary people do not have many paths to truly experience space exploration. But the role of the "genes" of human space exploration is powerful. Since 2019, the abandoned oil base in Delingha City, Qinghai, China, and the Gobi Desert of the Great Highway in Xinjiang, some tourism agencies and private companies have begun to build some buildings that simulate alien habitats to receive and develop some groups of tourists. summer camp students. For self-driving tourists who come here, most of them will stop for a short time and rent a prop spacesuit to take pictures. The price of renting a spacesuit is 75-150 US dollars an hour.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, also known as Earth’s Third Pole, is at high altitude and has strong ultraviolet rays. Since 2019, we have designed and planned the "Future Astronaut Training Camp", the predecessor of today's PECA (Planet Expedition Command Academy). In this program, the design, construction and wearing of a prop spacesuit to simulate an extraterrestrial walk is the finale of the training camp graduation.
In July 2019, we chose the desert area of a Tibetan nomad friend's ranch in the east of Qinghai Lake to build a lunar walking site. Our Moon living module is a huge factory-made custom white PVC inflatable model. We believe that in the future, in line with avant-garde scientific concepts, there will be inflatable space stations, and inflatable planetary living and working cabins, which will greatly increase the loading capacity of launch vehicles. Perhaps we can first put the inflatable space station in position, then fill with helium the modules destined for other planets, fly them into the stratosphere, before deflating, folding, and launching them to the Moon or other planets. After nightfall, we placed an inflatable glowing Earth behind the sand hills to create the scene of our planet rising, as seen from the Moon. The spacesuits were customized by looking through online movie prop studios, and our partner company adapted two sets of prop spacesuits for our use. These expensive suits ($2,500 each) were designed based on the shape of the Extravehicular Activity (EVA) spacesuits used at the International Space Station. The prop spacesuit is heavy and difficult to don, especially the helmet, and requires the assistance of another person to help get it on and off, experiencing the process of first putting it on the lower body, and then the upper body. Imagine the scene, with the two astronauts (wearing their EVA suits) walking in a desert that looks just like the surface of the Moon, with the brightly lit inflatable living module in the background becoming more and more distant. It's kind of funny and unscientific, but it really looks like walking on a planet other than Earth, and for a while it all seemed very real. The logistics staff at the scene cheered. Suddenly, the distant blue Earth on the remote hillside was blown by the wind and escaped the rope fixing it to the ground. My God, the Earth floated away, and the wires connecting it to the battery also broke, and the bright blue Earth was suddenly dark and blew away in the night wind.
The two astronauts walking on the surface of the Moon were stunned (yes, two, we strictly follow the PADI diver system, you can't go underwater alone, you always follow the buddy system). They turned on their helmet lights, but the light was immediately drowned in the endless darkness. "We must get the Earth back. We just bought it for $500, so we can't lose it" a company executive said in the dark. So the two astronauts walked downwind, bouncing along as if on the Moon. However, the Earth was not found for a long time. The camp leader took out his mobile phone and called the local shepherd's number, who appeared in the distance after some time, on a motorcycle wearing a Tibetan sheepskin robe. He greeted them before riding off into the depths of the desert. The headlight of the first motorcycle on the Moon slowly disappeared behind a crater. The spacesuit was thick and warm, but the mask often fogged up, and the two astronauts couldn't see the road under their feet as they walked. You can't take off the helmet on the Moon, you will die, so we took their hands and returned to the lunar module. As soon as we entered the bright lunar module, we found several local herdsmen sitting inside, with mountains of beer and boiled cold lamb on the table. They cheered the two astronauts on their first moonwalk and presented them with white Hada. Then everyone invited the two astronauts, the person in charge of the company, and me (who had been following the astronauts to take pictures on the Moon and was by then half-frozen), to drink and eat lamb with them.
The two astronauts took off their spacesuits, when everyone around found out that they were two girls. So the men embarrassedly put out their cigarette butts on the workbench of our lunar living module, picked up their guitars and sang Tibetan songs. Taking an open can of beer, I thought to myself, we should set up a separate smoking area in the lunar living module in the future, and alcohol should be prohibited. After a while, the Moon motorcyclist returned, pulling the disconnected Earth behind him, and at the same time, he had been pleasantly surprised to find his lost yak near the Earth! This was the story of our first simulated moonwalk. One year later in the summer, one of the PECA cadet astronauts, a young Chinese lady called Hanyun was studying at Barnard College of Columbia University, USA, where she directed and filmed a 9-minute space-themed short movie, called "Going Home." The film tells the story of a father, who is wearing an EVA suit like those on the ISS - he is all alone on the Moon and cannot return to Earth. In the end he dug out a Morse code telegraph in the lunar soil to contact his son. The telegram also told that he was about to die, and he was finally able to say goodbye to his son before he died
Later, I met a dentist whose hobby was handcrafting highly realistic Apollo moonsuits. There was a VR studio interested in working with us, but their budget only allowed them to buy one Apollo moonsuit. I told them many times that astronauts cannot walk alone on alien lands, and that two suits are needed and look good when photographed. The boss asked - why can't you use the previous two suits? But it's an extravehicular suit for the ISS was the response, you could wear it and film on the Moon, but you wouldn't win any awards, nonetheless, the studio insisted on buying only one moonsuit! In China from 2020 to 2021, spacesuit orders from movie props studios became big business and it would take several months after ordering to receive the finished products. By the time we got that Apollo lunar suit, the company had gone out of business!
PECA has a tradition that when every student graduates, we let them put on a spacesuit and take a photo, imitating a NASA astronaut as a souvenir. The idea is to encourage them to remember that the journey ahead is far into space. Our philosophy on spacesuits changed at the end of 2021. The original suits were highly complex and accurate in detail, making them very expensive. The customisation cycle was lengthy, and the additions were often damaged, lost parts and were difficult to repair. Also, it was just a simulated appearance of the real thing, with the spacesuit actually full of styrofoam, hollow cotton and other unexciting things. We currently don't have the funds or the ability to build highly realistic spacesuits with life support systems for training. We are also aware that, due to the lack of money and technology, our extraterrestrial walking simulation training may seem ridiculous in comparison to the very advanced projects of NASA and ESA - perhaps it looks like a fool's dream?! However, it is because many fools had the courage to dream that humans slowly stepped out of the Earth's cradle to fly to distant interstellar space. We are not trying to deliberately violate scientific principles. Nonetheless, it would be ridiculous to just wait and do nothing until we had all the needed money and scientific conditions.
One of PECA's missions is to promote the idea of future civilian space travel among as many young people as possible. If the cost of this project is too expensive and too serious, it is equivalent to telling everyone that we cannot do anything, these are for the government, capitalists, scientists, and let them do it well. The result is that everyone does nothing. So we changed our minds and bought some white one-piece ski suits on second-hand websites and converted them into space suits. Of course, the helmets and life support backpacks had to be customized separately. I once spent $300 and ended up getting a bunch of junk made of Nike shoe boxes. I was very sad. There were too many sad things in between. In January 2022, the place where our astronauts simulated walking began to try on the frozen lake in winter, and the photos taken were very impactful, very like Nolan's movie, "Interstellar". But according to space science, this slim-fitting spacesuit should be an in-cabin suit, right? Walking on alien land like this, will you die? I was breathing with my frozen fingers in my mouth while filming with my iPhone, and suddenly I thought so.
Going back to my room at night, looking at these real dreams and fake photos one by one on the computer, I remembered a conversation with a friend, who once said to me, "But I don't believe I can travel to space". I said, "Don't forget that we are in space right now, aren't we standing on a solitary blue planet, flying over thousands of shining stars in a dark and boundless universe??!"
About the Author: Chris Yuan. Born in China. Founder of the PECA System (Planet Expedition Command Academy). International staff of TEC (Explorers Club). Plateau Perspectives field staff.