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China Wall Can--and Cannot--Be Seen from Space

Chinese textbooks have always boasted that the Great Wall of China, built in the 5th century BC, is so big that it can be seen from space, but Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei, who was the first Chinese person in space, says he couldn't see it from his spacecraft Shenzhou V. However, Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan, who walked on the moon in December 1972, claims he saw the wall from space. He says, "At Earth orbit of (100 miles) to (200 miles) high, the Great Wall is indeed visible to the naked eye."

Despite this, the official NASA word is that, while other manmade objects can be seen from space, the Great Wall isn't one of them, because it's built from materials that match the surrounding landscape. While extremely long, it's also only a few feet wide. The Beijing Times says, "Having this falsehood [that the wall can be seen from space] printed in our elementary school textbooks is probably the main cause of the misconception being so widely spread."

Maybe Cernan just has excellent eyesight. When he spoke in Singapore recently, he said he could see that country from space as well, despite the fact that it's so small, it's not even on some world maps. It could also be that increasing Chinese pollution in the last 30 years is obscuring the view from space.

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