by Xinhua writer Yuan Quan
JIUQUAN, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- For a long time, Deng Qingming was known to the public for serving as a backup taikonaut who had never flown into space.
Since becoming one of China's first 14 trainee taikonauts 24 years ago, he has offered support for several space flights as a backup.
Though his road to space is longer than that of his peers, Deng has persisted with arduous training like other teammates. Already a grandfather, the 56-year-old possesses the same passion and vigor as taikonauts who are decades younger than him.
His perseverance has finally paid off. After a long wait, Deng is slated to join the upcoming mission of Shenzhou-15, which will be lifted into space by a Long March rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Nov. 29.
Deng will stay in space for six months and work with Fei Junlong and Zhang Lu to witness the completion of China's Tiangong space station. They will also be involved in the first crew rotation in the station before the orbiting Shenzhou-14 taikonauts head back to Earth.
"I was once depressed and even in tears, but I have never wavered, let alone give up," Deng said, recalling his experiences as a standby taikonaut.
During a press conference held Monday at the launch site, Deng addressed the public. Even in the midst of the enthusiastic applause, he maintained an air of cool composure and the confidence of a seasoned space traveler. "I will cherish this opportunity to fly into space and fulfill my duty," he said.
Deng spent almost all of his time training and waiting before he was finally given the chance to travel to space.
During preparations for the Shenzhou-11 mission in 2016, Deng was confined in a spacecraft stimulator for 33 days to experience long-duration space habitation.
However, he failed in the final selection by a narrow margin and became the backup for commander Jing Haipeng.
When the Shenzhou-11 crew returned to Earth, Deng's backup mission also ended. He was welcomed by his wife and daughter like a hero upon returning home and they had prepared a scrumptious meal. Deng could not control his emotions, so he walked into the bathroom and turned on the faucet to cover his sobs with the sound of running water.
It was also the wish of Deng's late mother to see her son fly into space.
Deng was born in 1966 into a rural family in east China's Jiangxi Province. As his parents worked in the fields, Deng took on the responsibility of looking after his four younger siblings.
His childhood dream was to go to college and find a decent job to support his family.
It was a fortuitous stroke of serendipity when representatives of China's Air Force visited his high school for recruitment. He passed all the tests and became a cadet pilot.
When he left for flight training in 1984, his fellow villagers gathered to see him off. Deng was deeply moved and determined to work hard to make them proud.
Years of intensive training made Deng an elite fighter pilot, and he was selected as part of the first batch of Chinese taikonauts in January 1998.
His peers include Yang Liwei, China's first space traveler, Nie Haisheng, a three-time space traveler, and Zhai Zhigang, the first Chinese spacewalker. Deng was the only active taikonaut among them who had not performed a space mission.
Deng admitted that he did feel disappointed, but he had little time to immerse himself in negative emotions. After each defeat, he had to quickly get rid of distracting thoughts and prepare for the next mission with a positive attitude.