As a reporter covering China's space programs, I am always sensitive to any news reports about space, the same way a pregnant woman tends to notice other expecting women around her.
As I've browsed through major Chinese news portals in the first few days since this year's two sessions started in March, I cannot help notice that China's space programs, one of the favorite topics of website news editors, are not so favorite this year.
During past two sessions, news about China's manned space program or lunar exploration program could often be found in national news headlines on these websites. This year, national news headlines are often about air quality, water pollution and baby formula.
When I went to the hotel where the CPPCC sci-tech group is staying, I saw only a few reporters outside their meeting rooms, waiting in the corridor that used to be crowded in the first few days of the sessions.
I cannot help wondering why. Maybe it's because there is no breaking news about space programs. Or maybe the public has shifted its focus.
Since the beginning of the year, smog has shrouded parts of North China. In January, Beijing saw only five days without smog. The rising PM2.5 readings terrified many people, and some health experts said that whenever the smog gets serious, hospitals receive more patients suffering acute respiratory and heart diseases.
Later, news of contaminated underground water in some provinces scared people who wondered whether the water they drink is safe.
The need to emphasize environmental protection while developing the economy is heard everywhere.
Smog especially is a common concern. Like a popular online post said, air may be the only thing that is equal for everyone, despite your income or vocation. People with higher incomes are able to drink only bottled spring water and eat only organic food by paying higher prices, but they breathe the same air as everyone else.
Many NPC deputies and CPPCC members have voiced their concerns about air pollution.
At a meeting on Monday of CPPCC members with no party affiliations, half of the attendants expressed concerns about the smog, even though they were supposed to discuss a CPPCC standing committee report, Southern Metropolis Daily reported.
Many NPC deputies have expressed their concerns about the air quality, too. Chen Baoshan, an NPC deputy from the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, said at a discussion that he has been to Beijing twice this year and ran into smoggy weather on both trips.
"After taking a taxi from the capital airport to my hotel, which took about an hour, I washed my nose and found the inside of my nose was black. We should ask ourselves this question: Why do we want to develop? It's for living a better life. Dirty air is definitely not a better life," he said.
Guo Jianren, a deputy to the NPC from Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, was quoted by Southern Metropolis Daily as saying that he went to Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei, for NPC training for three days, but saw the sun for only half a day.
"Nothing was clear in the smog except for one thing - that we can no longer develop our economy like this," he said.
In one of the many comments following the Southern Metropolis Daily report, an Internet user wrote: "I wish every day of the two sessions has a PM2.5 reading of 1,000, so this issue will really be given serious attention."
Seeing the smoggy weather on Wednesday, I somehow felt the same way.
China needs to develop its economy and invest in high-tech. Every Chinese wants a strong country. But without blue sky, clean water and safe food, the achievements in the economy will become meaningless. Space technologies are not to be developed for building a base on Mars so that one day all human beings can migrate to the red planet because they have destroyed Earth.
What the public wants is a strong and beautiful China. President Hu Jintao spoke at the 18th Party Congress last November saying that great efforts must be made to promote ecological progress and build a beautiful China. The words have shown the central government's resolution to address the environment issue.
Let the efforts to make a beautiful China start with cleaner air.