Qian Xuesen -- the head of China's space program -- has been named Person of the Year by the international aerospace journal Aviation Week & Space Technology. The AvWeek citation notes, "Not well known in the West, he is the father of China's space efforts. And it was in 2007 that China demonstrated it was the third force in space."
Educated in the United States, Qian served in the U.S. Army and was a leading aerospace scientist before being expelled from the United States for being suspected of having Communist sympathies.Qian -- now age 96 -- was the force behind the last year's anti-satellite test demonstration conducted by China. That test was based on advanced sensor, tracking, and trajectory control procedures that had previously been demonstrated only by the United States and Russia. China has undertaken a long line of space achievements that have included manned space flight and lunar probes. In China, as in the United States and Russia, the development of space technology has been in lock-step with military technology related to strategic missiles and satellites.
Born in Zhejiang Province in 1911, Qian came to the United States at age 23 to study aeronautical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But preferring theory to practice, he soon moved to Caltech, "and began to follow a path that would lead to his becoming one of the most eminent rocket scientists in the U.S.," according to Bradley Perrett's account in the January 7, 2008 issue of AvWeek.During World War II he served as an officer in the U.S. Army. After the war he was appointed to the prestigious Scientific Advisory Board of the Air Force. Physicist Theodore Van Karman, chief scientific advisor to the Air Force at the time, wrote. "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." In 1949, Qian detailed his concept of a "spaceplane," a winged rocket that is credited with being the inspiration for the Dyna-Soar project of the 1950s.
Qian's career in the United States came to a sudden and dramatic end in 1950 as a result of the communist-hunt of Senator Joseph McCarthy. With China now controlled by the communists, the U.S. government revoked Qian's security clearances.While Qian claimed that there was absolutely no evidence that he had communist sympathies, he sought to return to China. He did not have American citizenship. The government tried to keep him in the United States because of his technical knowledge. Then both parties changed their minds due to the outbreak of the Korean War. In the event, Qian was finally able to return to China in 1955.
Although -- in a period of rapid technology development -- his knowledge was soon outdated by Western standards, Qian quickly became director of the Fifth Academy under the Ministry of National Defense and began work on ICBMs. China's first long-range missiles and military satellites were developed under his direction.In the early 1990s the Chinese government publicly acknowledged Qian's contributions to China's technological growth. AvWeek's tribute to Qian concludes:
"But if China is now a strategic rival to the U.S., then his achievements are now more important than ever -- especially as the Chinese economy moves relentlessly forward toward front and center on the world stage. Hence the continuing relevance of this very old man."-- Norman Polmar