Was Wan Hu Really an Ancient Chinese Astronaut?

Illustration of Wan Hu, an ancient Chinese official said to have traveled to the moon, sitting in his rocket chair.

According to legend, Wan Hu attempted a bold journey to the Moon by strapping 47 huge rockets onto a giant leather chair. (Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia)

Although serious space exploration began in the 20th century, the desire to explore beyond the Earth dates back much further. When it comes to investigating the sky, the Chinese may be the most persistent explorers on the planet, with numerous accounts of individuals, such as Wan Hu, attempting to reach the heavens over the course of decades.

China is well-known for its numerous ancient innovations, including gunpowder, which was eventually used to propel pyrotechnics into the sky. However, China’s interest in space exploration dates back even further. In fact, some accounts suggest that a Chinese official named Wan Hu attempted to reach the stars centuries ago, long before the development of modern rockets.

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Who is the legendary Wan Hu?

The story of Wan Hu, a Chinese official believed to have lived around 2000 B.C., became a popular narrative in China during the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century. In several 20th-century stories, he was portrayed as the world’s first “astronaut,” who was carried into space by rockets. This legendary figure is so well-known that there is even a crater named Wan-Hoo on the far side of the Moon.

Full moon with moonlight shining on a calm ocean.
The story of Wan Hu’s journey to the moon became popular in China in the 1600s. (Image: Ig0rzh via Dreamstime)

According to legend, Wan Hu attempted the bold journey to the Moon by strapping 47 huge rockets onto a giant leather chair. Unfortunately, after the launch, both he and the flying chair vanished.

How did Wan Hu use rockets to go to outer space?

The concept of rockets and fireworks originated from Chinese experiments with gunpowder-filled tubes. Initially, the Chinese attached the bamboo tubes to arrows and attempted to launch them using bows. However, they soon discovered that the gunpowder tubes could propel themselves with the power generated by the escaping gas, leading to the development of the true concept of rockets.

While the idea of rockets began to spread, China primarily used them for warfare and simple fireworks, until the story of Wan Hu changed everything. Wan Hu transformed the use of rockets from a tool of war into a potential means of transportation. Believing that rockets could launch themselves, he thought he could use them to achieve his goal, but little did he know that his attempt would lead to his disappearance.

His outer space conquest

Wan Hu’s desire to explore outer space began when he became obsessed with getting closer to the stars. To achieve his dream, he built a spaceship using two kites, a solid chair, and 47 of the largest gunpowder rockets. Confident in his invention and the advanced rockets and fireworks available in China at the time, Wan Hu set out on his journey.

The night of his flight arrived, and Wan Hu strapped himself into a sturdy chair attached to 47 gunpowder-loaded bamboo rockets. With the help of his 47 assistants, the fuses were lit and then the assistants ran for their lives. Within seconds, an enormous rumble and clouds of smoke filled the area.

After the smoke cleared, Wan Hu and his chair completely disappeared. Those who witnessed the launch believed that it had been successful, and that Wan Hu had achieved his dream of reaching outer space. However, it seems rather unlikely that anyone could have survived the impact of 47 rockets.

Aerial view of a few spotted clouds and the shining sun on the horizon.
After the smoke cleared, Wan Hu and his chair completely disappeared. (Image: Ayed Moeed Al Jedaani via Dreamstime)

The story of Wan Hu: Is it fact or fiction?

After learning about Wan Hu, the Chinese man often regarded as the “first astronaut” to reach outer space, you may wonder whether it is true or just a myth. Well, the popular science television series MythBusters decided to re-create the exact scenario in order to find out.

Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, two members of the Myth Busters team, reproduced what they believed to be an exact copy of the so-called rocket chair. Sadly, the results they got were not good, but that was expected. How could a simple chair withstand the intense heat generated by 47 rockets?

It’s worth noting that modern science may not have all the answers to this ancient story, but it is still hard to believe that Wan Hu’s journey could have been a success given the information that has been passed down to us today and the limits of the technology employed. However, the truth behind this legend remains a mystery, and it’s up to individuals to decide whether to believe it or not.

The journey of the legendary Wan Hu

The spirit of Wan Hu’s story lives on to this day. Whether he existed or not, his ambition to venture into space has motivated many to strive for what society deems unattainable. In the years since his supposed flight, many have realized his dream of reaching for the stars as humanity advances its journey into space.

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