Wang Yaping demonstrated principles of weightlessness and took questions live from among the 330 grade school kids gathered at a Beijing auditorium during the 51-minute class from aboard the Tiangong 1 space station. Her fellow crew members Nie Haisheng and Zhang Xiaoguang answered questions about living, working and staying fit in space.
"I want to know how you know which way is up," said one student.
During one playful moment, Nie adopted the mythical cross-legged lotus position familiar to all fans of Chinese martial arts films.
"In space, we're all kung fu masters," Wang remarked.
In a later demonstration resembling a magic show, Wang injected droplets into an increasingly larger suspended ball of water, drawing exclamations of "wow" and polite applause from the students, another 60 million of whom were watching the live TV broadcast in their classrooms. The astronauts also spun gyroscopes and swung a ball on its tether to show how weightlessness affects objects in motion.
The lesson was "aimed at making space more popular," Zhou Jianping, designer-in-chief of China's manned space program, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency. "The spirit of science among youth is an important drive for the progress of mankind," Zhou said.
China's second female astronaut, Wang smiled her way through the carefully rehearsed class, which more closely resembled a children's TV science program than Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield's recent free-wheeling YouTube videos from the International Space Station.
The lectures come as China's human space program enters its second decade, after going from a simple manned flight to space lab link-ups in a series of methodically timed steps in just 10 years.
The current Shenzhou 10 mission is the second crewed trip to the Tiangong 1, launched in 2011 and due to be replaced by the larger, three-module permanent station, Tiangong 2, seven years from now.
The future station will weigh about 60 tons, slightly smaller than NASA's Skylab of the 1970s and about one-sixth the size of the 16-nation International Space Station. China was barred from participating in the International Space Station, largely on objections from the United States over political differences and the Chinese program's close links with the military.