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November 1, 2009

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Father of space program dies

QIAN Xuesen, a rocket scientist known as the father of China's space technology program, died yesterday in Beijing, aged 98.

Qian, also known as Tsien Hsue-shen, began his career in the United States and was regarded as one of the brightest minds in the new field of aeronautics before returning to China in 1955.

A member of both the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, Qian graduated from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 1934.

Born in 1911 in Zhejiang provincial capital Hangzhou, Qian left for the United States after winning a scholarship to graduate school in 1935. He studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later at California Institute of Technology, where he helped start the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In 1956, based on Qian's position paper on the country's defense and aviation industry, the central government set up an aviation industry committee, which later became the leading organization for China's missile and aviation programs.

Under the guidance of Qian, China finished the blueprint on developing jet and rocket technology.

He also played a significant role in developing the country's first artificial earth satellite.

He led the development of China's first nuclear-armed ballistic missiles and worked on its first satellite, launched in 1970.

He retired in 1991, the year before China's manned space program was launched. But his work formed the basis for the Long March CZ-2F rocket that carried astronaut Yang Liwei into orbit in 2003.

In August, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Qian and praised him for dedicating his life to China's defense technologies. "I'm trying to live to be 100 years old," Qian told him.


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