China's first man in space has said that Chinese astronauts eat dog meat to keep their strength up as they orbit around the earth.
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Yang Liwei, the 44-year-old military pilot who commanded the Shenzhou Five mission in 2003, revealed the menu on-board the spacecraft in his autobiography, The Nine Levels between Heaven and Earth.
"Many of my friends are curious about what we eat [in space] and think that the astronauts must have some expensive delicacies, like shark's fin or abalone," he wrote. "Actually we ate quite normal food, there is no need to keep it a secret," he added.
He listed a menu including braised chicken, steamed fish and dog meat from Huajiang county in Guangdong, which is famed for its nutritional benefits in China.
A local proverb in the south of China is that "Huajiang dog is better for you than ginseng", referring to the medicinal root that plays a vital role in traditional Chinese medicine.
He added that the diet had been specially drawn up for the astronauts by Chinese nutritionists and that the food had been purchased from special suppliers in Beijing. Dog is widely eaten in northern China, where it is believed to help battle the winter cold. The menu was still in use last year, when Chinese astronauts conducted their first ever spacewalk. China has plans to land a man on the moon by 2020.
The revelation drew an angry rebuke from animal rights campaigners, who said Mr Yang was setting a bad example to his millions of fans.
"Yang Liwei is a role model for so many young people and he is one of China's greatest heroes," said Jill Robinson, the founder of Animals Asia. "We hope that he might recognise dogs as the heroes they are too: they found survivors after the Sichuan earthquake and protected people from potential terrorists during the Olympic games. Surely they deserve more."
American astronauts also eat a varied menu of food, including beef enchiladas, lasagne, and sweet-and-sour pork on their space missions.
NASA has said space food must be easy to prepare and eat, and usually has lower fat, fewer calories and less salt.
Mr Yang also revealed that the pressure from take-off during the Shenzhou Five mission was so great that he thought he would die. "All of my internal organs seemed to have been crushed. I could hardly bear it and thought this could be the end for me," he wrote.
On his re-entry to earth, he also noticed a crack in the window of the module. "It would be a lie to say I was not terrified. It was 1,600C to 1,800C in temperature outside". Later, he discovered the crack had been a line in the heat-resistant coating.
A selection of dishes from the Chinese Astronaut menu (2009 mission)
Day One: Lotus root porridge, crispy tofu with spring onions, braised yellow croaker fish, pork ribs with seaweed, spinach with minced garlic.
Day Two: Spicy pig skin, braised duck neck, hairy crab with ginger, chicken liver with chilli, pine nuts with sweetcorn, three-flavour soup.
Day Three: Poached egg in fermented rice soup, Harbin sausage, Huajiang dog, baby cuttlefish casserole, eel with green pepper, spicy beans with dried tofu.
Apples, pears and oranges served with every meal, as well as rice, noodles, sweet potatoes.
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