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Outstanding scientist: Qian Xuesen

Brief introduction:

Qian Xuesen or Tsien Hsue-shen (December 11, 1911 – October 31, 2009), a native of Hangzhou,Qian Xuesen-portraitZhejiang Province, went to the United States to study in 1935. In 1955 he returned to China, and in 1958 he joined the Communist Party. He served successively as Director of the Institute of Mechanics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Vice-Minister of the No. 7 Ministry of the Machine-building Industry, Vice-Minister of the State Commission on Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence and Chairman of the China Association for Science and Technology. He was also elected alternate member of the Ninth through Twelfth CPC Central Committees. Qian played a leading role in the research, manufacture and testing of carrier rockets, guided missiles and satellites, thus making outstanding contributions to the development of China’s aerospace industry.

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Qian Xuesen, a famous scientist in modern China, is a member of Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering. He was bornin in Hangzhou City of Zhejiang Province in December 1911.  Qian graduated form Shanghai Jiaotong University in 1934. In 1935, he went to the United State for advanced study in MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). After receiving master’s degree in MIT, Qian went to study in California Institute of Technology. In 1939, Qian received PhD degrees of both aerospace and mathematics and left the school to be a teacher, as well as a researcher studying the applied mechanics and rocket and missile theories.

Qian returned to China in 1955. After his return, Qian has served successively as director-general with the mechanics institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences, deputy director-general and director-general with the fifth research institute of the State Defense Ministry, vice chairman with the Seventh Design and Research Institute The Ministry of Machinery Industry, deputy director-general with the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, president with the 3rd China Association for Science and Technology, vice president with the 6th to the 8th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Currently, Qian is the senior consultant with the Commission of Science and Technology of the General Equipment Ministry of the People’s Liberation Army, honorary president with China Association for Science and Technology. In 1957, Qian won the first prize of the natural science by Chinese Academy of Sciences, in 1979, the outstanding alumnus prize by California Institute of Technology, in 1985, first prize of national advanced technology awards, in 1989, the title of “World’s Celebrity for Sciences and Engineering”, and in 1991, China’s outstanding scientist with outstanding achievements and the nation’s first-grade medal for heroic models.

In 1956, Qian put forward “Proposal on the Development of China’s Aviation Industry for National Defense” and assisted Zhou Enlai, the then premiere, and Marshal Nie Rongzheng to prepare the establishment of China’s first missile and rocket R&D structure, the Fifth Research Institute of State Ministry of Defense. In October 1956, Qian assumed office of director-general with the fifth research institute. Henceforth, Qian has long been in charge of the chief technological officer with the R&D of China’s missile, rocket and spacecraft, and has contributed greatly to the establishment and development of China’s missile, rocket and spacecraft undertakings. Qian is a forerunner pioneering the development of China’s aerospace science and technology. He has been honored as “Father of China’s Missile“.

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Photos from XINHUA and  CFP:
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Early life and education:

Qian Xuesen was born in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, 180 km southwest of Shanghai. He left Hangzhou at the age of three when his father obtained a post in the Ministry of Education in Beijing. He graduated from the Jiao Tong University in 1934 and in August 1935 Qian Xuesen left China on a Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1936 Qian went to the California Institute of Technology to commence graduate studies on the referral of Theodore von Karman. He obtained his doctorate in 1939 and would remain at Caltech for 20 years, ultimately becoming the Goddard Professor and establishing a reputation as one of the leading rocket scientists in the United States.

It was shortly after arriving at Caltech that Tsien was attracted to the rocketry ideas of Frank Malina and a few other students of von Karman, and their associates, including Jack Parsons. Around Caltech the dangerous and explosive nature of their work earned them the nickname “Suicide Squad.”

Career in the United States?

In 1943, Qian and two others in the Caltech rocketry group drafted the first document to use the name Jet Propulsion Laboratory; it was a proposal to the Army to develop missiles in response to Germany’s V-2 rocket. This led to the Private A, which flew in 1944, and later the Corporal, the WAC Corporal, etc.

During the Second World War, he was amongst many scientists who participated in the “Manhattan Project”.

After World War II he served under von Karman as a consultant to the United States Army Air Force, and was eventually given the “assimilated rank of colonel”. Von Karman and Qian were sent by the Army to Germany to investigate the progress of wartime aerodynamics research. Qian investigated research facilities and interviewed German scientists such as Wernher von Braun and Rudolph Hermann. Von Karman wrote of Qian, “At the age of 36, he was an undisputed genius whose work was providing an enormous impetus to advances in high-speed aerodynamics and jet propulsion.”

During this time, Qian worked on a designing an intercontinental space plane. His work would inspire the X-20 Dyna-Soar which would later be the inspiration for the Space Shuttle.

In 1947 Qian Xuesen married Jiang Ying, a famed opera singer.

In 1949, Qian became the first Director of the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Jet Propulsion Center at Caltech.

Return to China:

In 1955 Qian went to work as head of the Chinese missile program immediately upon his arrival in China. He joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1958.

Qian established the Institute of Mechanics and began to retrain Chinese engineers in the techniques he had learned in the United States and retool the infrastructure of the Chinese program. Within a year Qian submitted a proposal to establish a ballistic missile program. This proposal was accepted and Qian was named the first director of the program in late 1956. By 1958 Qian had finalized the plans of the Dongfeng missile which was first successfully launched in 1964 just prior to China’s first successful nuclear weapons test. Qian also contributed a lot to China’s Higher Education. He was the first Chairman of the Department of Mechanics of University of Science & Technology of China (USTC), a new type of university established by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) after the founding of PRC and aimed at fostering high-level personnel of science and technology necessary for the development of the national economy, national defense construction, and education in science and technology.

In 1979 Qian was awarded Caltech’s Distinguished Alumni Award. In the early 1990s the filing cabinets containing Qian’s research work were offered to him by Caltech. Most of these works became the foundation for the Tsien Library at Xi’an Jiaotong University while the rest went to the Institute of Mechanics. He eventually received his award from Caltech, and with the help of his friend Frank Marble brought it to his home.

He retired in 1991 and has maintained a low public profile in Beijing, China.

China launched its manned space program in 1992 and used Qian’s research as the basis for the Long March rocket which successfully launched the Shenzhou V mission in October 2003. The elderly Qian was able to watch China’s first manned space mission on television from his hospital bed.

Late life:

In his later years, since the 1980s, Qian advocated scientific investigation of traditional Chinese medicine, Qigong and “special human body functions”. Some people claim that Qian actually did not spend his effort on Qigong, but that he just expressed that people should consider the widely spread and practiced Qigong in a scientific manner.

In 2008, he was named Aviation Week and Space Technology Person of the Year and China Central Television named him as one of the eleven most inspiring people in China.

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