"STOP WRITING!" the young female employee of the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) blurted, suddenly appearing beside me. I stopped sketching the lunar sample return vehicle model in front of me on the faux Moon landscape wondering if I was about to be man handled by the uniformed men of the People's Liberation Army we had seen at the main gate to this restricted area.
It was 23 May and the third day of the 16th International Academy of Astronautics' Humans in Space Symposium I was attending in Beijiing.
Throughout the course of the afternoon we were visiting CAST and the China Astronaut Research and Training Center aka Astronaut Center of China aka ACC, and constantly being told "no photos! No video!".
CAST is a prime contractor for the Chinese space programme and we were in its exhibition hall with the actual return module of the Shenzhou-6, a mock-up of the Shenzhou vehicle in launch configuration, telecommunication satellites, the robotic lunar vehicles and other space paraphernalia.
But for any of you that are interested in what the Chinese lunar sample return vehicle looked like, it looked exactly like this, Russia's Luna series of sample return vehicles, see this picture care of www.astronautix.com;
In fact the Chinese lunar rover is another almost exact duplicate of the Russian lunar rover.
So it seems China's space programme is still benefiting from Russia's experience.
So what were they so bothered about? Maybe they are a little embarrassed at their continued reliance on 35 year old Soviet technology?
Doesn't explain why they wouldn't let us photograph the forecourt of the CAST complex, which has a bust of its first director Qian Xuesen - this is the correct spelling apparently but don't ask me to pronounce it.
One NASA medical specialist was shouted at for daring to snap the exterior of the building that houses the exhibition hall. But I sneaked in a quick picture of CAST as we drove out of the entrance.
For those of you who want to know CAST's address, easily found on the back of its promotional material, its 104 Youyi street, Haidian, Beijing. It is about a 30min drive from the Beijing Friendship Hotel where we were staying and the symposium was being held. Haidian is considered a north west suburb of the Chinese capital. Sadly Google Maps does not include Beijing so you can't Google an aerial picture of the place. Worse still because literally just down the road is the ACC.
It's a vast campus like place with buildings that look as old as the centre is, 38 years.
In the distance we could see a large circular building that looked new. I wondered if that housed the water tank. It could contain not only mock ups of the Shenzhou but also any future space lab (planned to go up by 2012) and modules for China's proposed space station.
Again we got the no video, no photo mantra.
Oddly the head of the centrifuge (see above) department was happy for his visitors to take photos. But the young staff chaperoning the visitors were having none of it.
He seemed particularly proud that it had run more than 2,000 times since start of operations in 1998. The DC electric powered single axis 8m arm could spin you up to a maximum of 16g. Ouch. But for me, far more interesting, was the simulator room. It is a full scale mock up of the Shenzhou vehicle's orbital module and re-entry capsule in a launch configuration. Notice the equipment on either side of the capsule? They are screens that cover the capsule's portholes to show images of space and the Earth from orbit, which relate to the spacecraft's location and orientation.
On the left hand side wall of the simulator room, from the point of view of the photo above, at least a dozen pictures showed different stages of astronaut candidate training.
Strangely many of the pictures had obviously been altered, photoshopped so to speak, and because they had been blown up to poster size you could see the tell tale edge around the picture elements that had been cut out and stuck onto an alternate background.
The dodgy pictures showed astronaut candidates parachuting, holding a Chinese flag while "floating" during an apparent parabolic flight, and being winched up by a helicopter.
But one genuine picture showed an individual in a launch suit sitting on the edge of a hole. The picture also shows the tower below. We were told that it was an emergency escape training tower. Odd. How many launch pads have emergency egress systems that deliver the astronauts right next to the engines during a pad emergency?
Some of us speculated that it is actually an old microgravity experiment tower. Drop the experiment down the centre of the tower and for a few seconds, like a parabolic flight, the experiment experiences zero-g. I was able to snap the tower while we drove out of the ACC.
So with all the hullabaloo about not taking photos, how did I get these facility photos? On the final day of the symposium a poster session, yes, lots of posters detailing research, there was a series of ACC posters with the photographs of its facilities. Can they spell the Chinese for "D'oh!"?