JIUQUAN, Gansu: The first evening launch of a Shenzhou manned space mission is one for generations to remember.
It's virtually impossible for anyone at the scene not to be fascinated by the rocket launch, especially on a chilly night like yesterday evening, and especially for those who witnessed history at 1.5 km directly across from the launch pad here on the outskirt of China's second largest desert.
Like no time before in history, this small town of 30,000 residents was swarmed by people. The liftoff had a truly groundbreaking effort; the rocket's breakthrough of the clouds that followed received even more wows and woos.
It was as if all spring festivals, new years and Christmases came at once.
It was as if one had just attended a most celebrated wedding. A holy setting was evident before the blastoff. Every spectator was holding their breaths and waiting for that one big moment.
It was just like a wedding, when everyone waits with joy for those "I wills" and the groom to kiss the bride. And just like a wedding, with all the procedures completed, there was relief. There was laughter. There were hugs. There were flashlights.
And there were lots of them!
The astronauts' brief ceremony earlier in the afternoon, in comparison, felt like a genuine party after a wedding, when family and friends gather around the newly-weds and send them into a Cadillac with the "Just Married" banner that goes off with joyful honks.
Even with dozens of soldiers trying to clear the crowd, the trio's vehicle could not even move for minutes. There were simply too many people -- technicians and relatives, children, reporters, tourists, soldiers -- too many.
For a moment, it felt like being on Tiananmen Square during the 50th Anniversary parade of the People's Republic, or amidst the crowd supporting the Olympic torch relay months ago.
But the experience of being surrounded by the mass of humanity in this isolated oasis town is… unparalleled to any other.
As soon as the crew's vehicle managed its way outside the taikonauts' apartment compound, crowds started singing, dancing and taking photos everywhere on the square. People posed for photos. People took photos. People took photos of people posing for photos. And people took photos of people taking photos of people posing for photos. Even in here, one finds clear traces of the digital age.
With announcement of the spaceship's entry into orbit, night eventually fell in town and resumed its serene nature. After years in preparation and efforts from a countless number of people, the job was finally done. For the spacewalker and his two assistants, though, the mission has just begun. And yet the wedding had completed, and the newly-weds were now firmly en route to their most important moments in life.