So what's the big deal about a couple of Chinese guys poking their heads out of a space capsule, waving a plastic flag, and doing a couple Mr. Wizard experiments? Well, same thing that was a big deal about two American guys planting an American flag on the Moon. It's an adventure, an expression of human courage and dreams.
But for a more specific answer, watch this video of Chinese television coverage of the first Chinese spacewalk. Forward to timemark 7:30 and listen to the American commentator (he sounds like one of our veteran astronauts, but I can't place him yet):
Chinese commentator: This project... actually can inspire many youth to join in science and math. As I just watched the presidential debate... Obama said that China is catching up... the United States should educate, should inspire its children to be joining in math and science education more.
American commentator: This is a real problem in the United States right now. Many young people are reluctant to work hard enough to become scientists or engineers—
Chinese commentator: Because science is hard—
American commentator: —because science is hard and because getting a job in a service industry is easy. A lot of brainpower is being wasted because of that and because of the fixation simply on making money rather than contributing to the betterment of mankind.
Science is hard. It takes time. But I'm not quite ready to blame my generation and the one coming up for laziness. When you come out of college already $20K in the hole and need to buy your own health insurance, you don't feel like you have a lot of time to explore career options that might not pay off as quickly as a job in insurance or banking (although maybe the mortgage meltdown will change that).
Math, science, and engineering are hard (well, not for regular commenter Tony, but he's a mental machine! ;-) ). As a nation, we can encourage young people to pursue careers in those fields by supporting great endeavors like returning to the Moon (returning? heck—try colonizing!). We need to build respect and enthusiasm for science and learning to face the challenges of the future.
Gee, maybe having a President who sounds "professorial" is exactly what we need in the 21st century.
Bring on the professors, the eggheads, and the dreamers: they're the ones who'll get us to the stars.