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November 7, 2009

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Thousands mourn top space scientist

AROUND 10,000 mourners gathered at the Beijing Babaoshan Cemetery yesterday morning to pay their final respects to the late Chinese space scientist Qian Xuesen.

Joining them were President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and other top leaders.

A statement issued by the General Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee described Qian as a "renowned scientist at home and abroad and founder of China's space program."

Qian's body was cremated after the ceremony. He died of illness in Beijing on October 31 at age 98.

Qian played a key role in China's missile and aviation programs after the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949.

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

Under his guidance, China finished a blueprint for developing jet and rocket technologies. Qiao also played a significant role in developing the country's first satellite.

"He was a very serious and devoted scientist but, in everyday life, he was so easygoing," Liu Juntao, a senior researcher with the Chinese Academy of Space Technology and a former assistant to Qian, said at the ceremony. "The way he worked and thought is still inspiring me."

Since Sunday, thousands of people have paid homage at Qian's home.

Qian is widely remembered for abandoning a rewarding life in the United States and returning to then-poor China in the 1950s.

"There was a huge gap between life here and in the United States in the 1950s when China had just gone through a devastating civil war," said Zheng Nanning, president of the Xi'an Jiaotong University.

In 1947 Qian was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


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