China’s official Xinhua News Agency ran a story on Thursday announcing ground controllers were tracking Chinese astronauts sent aloft for the country’s first spacewalk, complete with details and quotes from the astronauts. There was just one problem: the astronauts had yet to blast off for the spacewalk, which is scheduled for the early hours of Saturday morning, Beijing time.
Carrying a Sept. 27 dateline that declared Xinhua reporters were “sleepless in the middle of the Pacific Ocean” aboard a Chinese tracking ship, the story — published on Xinhua’s Web site on Sep. 25 at 9:04 a.m. — offers a gripping account of conversation between ground controllers and astronauts aboard the Shenzhou VII spacecraft, citing the breathless silence aboard the Yuan Wang No. 1 tracking ship as observers waited for the craft to appear on its instruments.
The ship even established contact with the spacecraft 12 seconds ahead of schedule, said the report, which was written by reporters Wu Dengfeng, Mei Shixiong and Wang Yushan.
In reality, the astronauts didn’t actually blast off until 9:00 p.m. on Thursday night, Beijing time, according to an Associated Press report — about 12 hours after the Xinhua spacewalk story first appeared.
A copy of the story, which was pulled down by Xinhua, can be viewed in a cached version stored by search-engine operator Baidu.