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US Drove Out Founder of China's Rocketry Program
Published on Wednesday, October 15, 2003 by the Associated Press
U.S. Drove Out Founder of China's Rocketry Program
by Joe McDonald
 

BEIJING - The founder of China's rocketry program that on Wednesday launched its first astronaut into space began his career building ballistic missiles for the U.S. government during World War II.

Tsien Hsue-shen, 92, was a U.S. Army officer, a co-founder of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Colleagues called him one of the brightest minds in the new field of aeronautics.

Then, in 1955, Tsien was driven out of the United States at the height of anticommunist fervor.


A Chinese cyclist watches China's first astronaut Yang Liwei wave as the successful launch of China's first manned spacecraft was shown on a giant screen in Beijing October 15, 2003. China won widespread acclaim after it put a man into space Wednesday, while astronaut Buzz Aldrin, one of the first men on the moon, raised the prospect of a new space race. Russia and the United States, the only nations to have put a man in space, hailed the launch of the Long March 2F rocket carrying 'taikonaut' Yang Liwei Wednesday morning. Photo by Guang Niu/Reuters
Born in 1911 in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, Tsien left for the United States after winning a scholarship to graduate school in 1936. He earned a doctorate and became a professor at the California Institute of Technology, later moving to MIT.

During World War II, Tsien helped to design ballistic missiles for the U.S. military. In 1945, as an Army colonel with a security clearance, he was sent to Europe on a mission to examine captured rocket technology from Nazi Germany.

Tsien studied the German V-2 rocket and interviewed its chief designer, Wernher von Braun, who would go on to play a key role in the American manned space program.

After the war, Tsien married the daughter of a military adviser to Chinese leader Gen. Chiang Kai-shek. In 1949, Tsien applied to become a U.S. citizen, shortly before Chiang's Nationalist forces were defeated by Mao Zedong's communists.

As anticommunist unease in the United States mounted, the FBI confronted Tsien in 1950 with a U.S. Communist Party document from 1938 that listed him as a member.

Tsien denied being a communist, but he was briefly arrested and lost his security clearance. Washington began hearings to deport him, though he was never charged with a crime.

After five years of virtual house arrest and secret negotiations between Washington and Beijing, Tsien left for his homeland in 1955.

Four months later, Tsien presented then-Premier Zhou Enlai with a proposal to set up an "aerospace industry for national defense," according to the Chinese Communist Party newspaper People's Daily. He joined the party in 1958.

Tsien, whose name also is written Qian Xuesen or Tsien Hsue-sen, led 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 latest manned space program was launched. But his research formed the basis for the Long March CZ-2F rocket that carried astronaut Yang Liwei into orbit.

Today Tsien is an enigma - showered with official honors by Beijing, which named him "king of rockets," but rarely seen in public.

In her 1996 biography of Tsien, "The Thread of the Silkworm," American author Iris Chang says he tried to erase his past, destroying documents and asking friends not to talk about him.

In an unusual burst of publicity, Tsien was publicly honored on his 90th birthday in 2001.

Then-President Jiang Zemin visited him at home, where state media said the ailing Tsien was confined to bed. People's Daily ran a large photo of the meeting on its front page.

"He's the father of our space industry," Luan Enjie, director of the China National Space Administration, told the Orlando Sentinel in 2001. "It's difficult to say where we would be without him."

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press

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