And Finally

Unappetising dish

The world’s largest radio telescope is having a problem hiring people

The world's largest radio telescope named "FAST" is seen before being put into use on Sunday, in Pingtang county, Guizhou province, China

Listening post seeks staff

It took just three years for China’s privately-funded aerospace sector to develop its first solid fuel rocket, chasing Space X, Elon Musk’s firm, which has used one of its own rockets to transport a Tesla sports car closer to Mars.

Progress from the Chinese rocketeers has been rapid. Perhaps a little too quick, in fact. That was one verdict after Beijing-based LandSpace Technology launched a 19-metre rocket in the Gobi Desert in late October. Named Zhuque-1 (“vermilion bird”), it was meant to transport a small satellite into orbit for state broadcaster CCTV. All went well until the third stage of the journey, when the craft, which cost about $14 million to develop, burned up in the atmosphere.

Meanwhile China’s government is having its own problems getting another space-related project off the ground. This time the issue is more mundane: staffing.

According to Science and Technology Daily, the National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAO) can’t attract enough qualified personnel to work at FAST, the world’s largest radio telescope. The facility – which is the size of 500 football pitches – plans to reflect signals from distant parts of the universe, which could lead to breakthroughs in scientific knowledge. But though it want to get the station operational by early next year, NAO has struggled to hire staff.

There are 24 new openings for applicants with at least a master’s degree, as well as English language proficiency. The jobs involve observation, data analysis, maintaining communication equipment and programming. But qualified scientists have largely shunned the opportunity with media speculating that they aren’t keen to live off the grid in Guizhou. Among the downsides: staff can’t use their mobile phones as no communication systems are permitted within 30 kilometres of the station. Microwave ovens, digital cameras and electric hair dryers are also forbidden, due to the need to curb electromagnetic waves.

Employees can only go home once a month and the salary – Rmb100,000 ($14,448) a year with no extra pay for night shifts – is hardly stellar.

Netizens have criticised NAO for penny-pinching, noting that the telescope cost Rmb667 million to build. “Graduate-level jobs in major cities pay an annual salary of at least Rmb150,000, with much better benefits; not to mention foreign organisations, which pay $50,000 for similar roles,” noted one netizen. “Despite being able to detect the distant stars in the sky, Heavenly Eye [FAST’s nickname] should also see its own inadequacies in trying to build a team of scientific talent,” agreed state newspaper Xinhua.

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