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Tsien Hsue-shen (Qian Xuesen)
(1911-2009) Father of Chinese spaceflight. Leading rocket theoretician, expelled from USA as Red in 1955. Created China's space industry from scratch, results: China's first ballistic missiles, 1960s; first satellite, 1970; and first astronaut, 2003.

Born: 1911-12-11. Died: 2009-10-31. Birth Place: American.

Tsien Hsue-shen (Qian Xuesen), was the father of Chinese rocketry and spaceflight. A pre-eminent rocket scientist in America, he was driven from the country during the Red Scare of the 1950's. He single-handedly built a national space and rocketry program from the technology base of an agrarian society.

Tsien was born in Hangzhou, China in 1911. A brilliant student, he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a Boxer Rebellion Scholarship in 1935. Becoming a protégé of the legendary Theodor von Karman, Tsien was the leading theoretician in rocket and high-speed flight theory in the United States. He was instrumental in the founding of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and collaborated closely with the newly-founded Aerojet Corporation in the development of the first JATO and sounding rockets built in the United States.

Identified to the US Defence Department as a key person in the future development of military technology for the United States, Qian was a member of Project Lusty - a team of top scientists that entered Germany just behind the American lines, locating and returning to the United States key documents and personnel of the advanced German aircraft and rocketry programs. The team left for Europe before the war even ended. By May 5 Tsien found himself interviewing Wernher von Braun and other members of the V-2 Rocket Team in Kochl. Von Braun prepared for Tsien a seminal report, ‘Survey of Development of Liquid Rockets in Germany and Their Future Prospects', which provided the road map for future space vehicle development in the United States. Rudolph Hermann revealed that Tsien's theories of supersonic flow had been confirmed in German wind tunnels during the war. Such facilities had not been available in the United States.

The Lusty Team moved on to the Hermann Goering Luftfahrtforschungsanstalt near Volkenrode in Braunschweig. This camouflaged secret facility had carried out advanced aerodynamics work during the war. Von Karman encountered old acquaintances from his days as a professor in Aachen there. Despite attempts to destroy the most secret documents, the team recovered 3 million pages - 1500 metric tons - of technical papers from Volkenrode. These laid the groundwork for American post-war jet aircraft development. A single set of documents providing details of the design of swept wings to transonic aircraft was deemed so important that the Boeing's George Shairer microfilmed the details and returned to Seattle in July. The XB-47 design was revised to a podded-engine swept-wing, becoming the ancestor of the B-52 and all subsequent Boeing transports.

Meanwhile Tsien was devoting his time to the German work on the Pfeilflugel. The concept had first been proposed by Alfred Busemann in 1937 and elaborated by Hans Lippisch during the war. On May 28 Lippisch briefed the Lusty Team in Paris on his work on the Me-163 tail-less rocketplane and the unflown DM-1 pure delta glider.

Returning from Germany, Tsien edited the leading findings of the project in the 800-page Jet Propulsion, which would become the classified technical Bible for post-war aircraft and rocket technical research in the post-war United States.

By 1949 Tsien applied the knowledge learned to the design of a practical intercontinental rocket transport. He proposed a 5,000 km single stage winged rocket clearly derived from V-2 aerodynamics. The 22,000 kg rocket would carry ten passengers from New York to Los Angeles in 45 minutes. It would take off vertically, with the rocket burning out after 60 seconds at 14,740 kph at 160 km altitude. After a coast to 500 km, it would re-enter the atmosphere and enter a long glide at 43 km altitude. Landing speed was to be 240 kph. Tsien's fundamental theoretical work on this concept lead to him being called the ‘Father of the Dyna-soar' (a 1950's/1960's delta winged spaceplane that was the ancestor of the space shuttle).

But at this same period Tsien's homeland was undergoing a chaotic period of civil war leading to the victory of Mao Tse-tung's Communist forces. In the larger world, the Cold War struggle had begun. Stalin had exploded an atomic bomb and it was revealed that the technology had been stolen from the Americans by wartime Soviet spies. In backlash, McCarthyism took root in the United States.

Tsien seems to have undergone a similar personal struggle of loyalty and allegiances at the same time. On the one hand, Tsien married the cosmopolitan daughter of a senior military adviser to Chiang Kai-shek in 1947, applied to become a US citizen in 1949, and had become one of the senior scientists advising the US military on post-war development of rocket technology. He had begun pioneering and highly secret work on the use of nuclear rocket engines. On the other hand, Tsien was revolted by the corruption of the Chinese nationalists, faced racial discrimination in the United States, and constantly vacillated in his desire to return to his homeland. He, like other Chinese scientists in the United States, began to receive letters from their relatives indicating that hardships awaited them unless their expatriate son returned to the motherland.

Events culminated on June 6, 1950. Just weeks before North Korean forces invaded the southern Korean zone, leading to a war that would bring the United States and China into direct military conflict, Tsien was visited by the FBI. He was accused of being a Communist party member in the 1930's and his security clearance was revoked. By this time nearly all of Tsien's work was classified, and denial of the clearance destroyed his ability to continue further. He decided to leave China, but was instead thrown into a prison cell on Terminal Island by the US Immigrations Service. Leaders in Washington had decided that Tsien knew too much for him to be allowed to move to a Communist country. He was detained under virtual house arrest for five years, while his technical knowledge become more and more dated. In the 1955 Geneva talks on return of American prisoners of war, release of Tsien was made an explicit condition of the Chinese. Eisenhower himself agreed to do so, and in September 1955 Tsien left for China.

Building rocket and aircraft technology in China was to be a long process. Achieving the indigenous technologies in metallurgy, machinery, and electronics was an enormous task. The Russians provided an R-2 rocket, an improved version of the V-2, as a starting point. Chinese political upheavals - the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, Tsien's backing of the disgraced Lin Biao - further delayed progress. But by 1960, Tsien launched the first Chinese-built R-2. By 1970, he had launched China's first satellite using his DF-2 rocket. In 1968 Tsien founded the Space Flight Medical Research Centre to prepare for manned flights. The large two stage FB-1 and CZ-2 rockets, the basis for China's ICBM and all existing Chinese space launch vehicles, first flew in 1972. Launches of the FSW photo reconnaissance satellite, with a recoverable re-entry capsule nearly large enough to accommodate a pilot, began in 1974.

Tsien's manned spacecraft design proposed in the late 1970's was a winged spaceplane, launched by a CZ-2 core booster with two large strap-on boosters. It so strongly resembled the cancelled US Dynasoar of 15 years earlier that US intelligence analysts wondered if it wasn't based on declassified Dynasoar technical information. It would seem that this was to be preceded by a simpler manned capsule.

First public announcement of the manned program came in February, 1978. By November the head of the Chinese Space Agency, Jen Hsin-Min, confirmed that China was working on a manned space capsule and a "Skylab" space station.

In January, 1980 the Chinese press reported a visit with the Chinese astronaut trainees at the Chinese manned spaceflight training center. Photographs appeared of the astronauts in training. Pressure suited astronauts were shown in pressure chamber tests. Other trainees were shown at the controls of a space shuttle-like spaceplane cockpit.

A fleet of ships for recovery of manned capsules at sea was built and in May, 1980, the first capsule was recovered from the South Pacific after a suborbital launch. But then, suddenly, in December, 1980, Wang Zhuanshan, the Secretary General of the New China Space Research Society and Chief Engineer of the Space Centre of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, announced that Chinese manned flight was being postponed because of its cost. Fundamental economic development was given priority.

This was apparently Tsien's last attempt at a manned program while still actively heading the space program. Tsien had managed to keep in the favor of the changing Chinese regimes over the years. He was a dedicated Communist who's technical advice on agriculture contributed to the death of millions during the Great Leap Forward in 1958. He met Mao six times and tutored him personally in 1964. He survived the Cultural Revolution of 1968 and supported the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. His active career came to a close when he was awarded the State's highest award, State Scientist of Outstanding Contribution in October 1991. A new manned space program would be approved in 1992, led by leaders and engineers trained in Russia in the late 1950's.

Tsien lived out the balance of his life in seclusion in a guarded residential compound in Beijing.

Country: China. Launch Vehicles: Tsien Spaceplane 1949.
Photo Gallery

Tsien 1956Tsien 1956


1911 December 11 - .
1935 August 15 - .
1936 September 1 - .
1937 June 1 - .
1949 During the Year - .
1950 June 6 - .
1955 September 17 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1956 January 5 - .
1956 February 17 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1956 March 1 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1956 May 26 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1956 September 13 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: R-1.
1957 July 17 - .
1957 October 15 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1957 December 24 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
January 1958 - . Launch Vehicle: R-12.
April 1958 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1958 April 28 - .
1958 May 17 - . Launch Vehicle: R-12.
June 1956 - . Launch Site: Jiuquan. Launch Complex: Jiuquan. LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1958 June 1 - .
Second half of 1958 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1958 September 1 - .
1958 September 19 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1958 December 1 - .
January 1959 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
Early 1959 - . Launch Vehicle: R-12.
April 1959 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1959 June 20 - . LV Family: R-12. Launch Vehicle: DF-2.
July 1959 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1959 September 15 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
October 1959 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
Late 1959 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1960 April 18 - . Launch Vehicle: T-7.
1960 August 12 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1960 August 23 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1960 October 20 - . LV Family: V-2. Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
1960 November 14 - . Launch Vehicle: DF-3.
During 1962 - .
Early 1962 - . LV Family: DF-3. Launch Vehicle: DF-4.
1964 February 6 - .
1964 September 12 - . LV Family: DF-3. Launch Vehicle: DF-1, DF-3 Tsien, DF-4.
1964 November 4 - . LV Family: R-12. Launch Vehicle: DF-2A.
January 1965 - . LV Family: DF-3. Launch Vehicle: Chang Zheng 1.
1965 April 29 - . LV Family: DF-3. Launch Vehicle: Chang Zheng 1.
1965 August 10 - . LV Family: DF-3. Launch Vehicle: Chang Zheng 1.
1966 January 4 - . LV Family: DF-3. Launch Vehicle: DF-4.
May 1966 - . LV Family: DF-3. Launch Vehicle: Chang Zheng 1.
1966 June 6 - . LV Family: DF-3. Launch Vehicle: Chang Zheng 1.
1967 January 23 - . LV Family: DF-3. Launch Vehicle: Chang Zheng 1.
1968 June 8 - . LV Family: DF-3. Launch Vehicle: Chang Zheng 1.
1970 April 24 - . LV Family: DF-3. Launch Vehicle: Chang Zheng 1.
1971 September 12 - .
2009 October 31 - .

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