A tweet posted on July 3 suggested that the three taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) onboard the Tianhe space station module were actually not in space because they could stand straight and did not float.
The Twitter account associated with Dayu News Insider, an online publication featuring opinions on current affairs, said in Chinese:
“The astronauts of the exceptional country are also more exceptional. They stand firmly in outer space and won’t float.”
Similar claims can be found on Facebook and Twitter (here, here, here, here, and here). Together, these posts garnered close to a thousand engagements while the accompanying video recorded more than 20,000 views.
In replying to the tweet in question, one user wrote, “The hand gestures and the clothes show the gravity on Earth. If they hadn’t shot this video, we might not have been able to see the fakery so quickly. Such an unnecessary move. When will the Chinese Communist Party learn?”
The claim is false. The legs of three taikonauts were strapped on the floor when the video was taken.
Although the video in question only shows the upper part of the three taikonauts’ bodies, Annie Lab found evidence that they were strapped to the floor inside a space station core module called Tianhe.
In this CGTN report on their entry to the station module on June 17, for example, their feet were clearly attached to foot restraints to maintain their position.
In another video on June 23, they were again shown standing upright during their call with President Xi Jinping, with their feet supported by the foot restraints.
The video embedded in the false claim was released on June 28 during the live event “Epic Journey,” a theatrical performance celebrating the party’s anniversary at the National Stadium in Beijing.
The three taikonauts, Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo, sent a congratulatory message on the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.
Foot restraints are a common and essential feature in space stations.
In 2019, NASA astronaut Jessica Meir was photographed standing straight with foot restraints in the Kibo laboratory module of the International Space Station. According to NASA, the device is “used in microgravity to keep astronauts in a fixed position.”
Without such devices, astronauts and objects appear to be weightless and float in space.
The foot restraints used by the Chinese taikonauts can also be seen in a YouTube video posted by CCTV on June 24 titled, “How do taikonauts stand straight?”
The Chinese text in the video reads, “Three taikonauts stood next to each other and raised their hands in salute. How did they do it? The answer lies below their feet.” The clip also featured a red circle indicating the foot restraints.
The Tianhe is the core module and the future control hub of the planned Chinese Space Station Tiangong. It will be joined by two laboratory modules, Wentian and Mengtian in 2022 to complete the construction of Tiangong, according to the official timetable.
The International Space Station, meanwhile, is scheduled to retire in 2024.