Qian Xuesen

11 Dec 1911
31 Oct 2009
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Qian Xuesen (11 December 1911 – 31 October 2009) was a Chinese scientist who made important contributions to the missile and space programs of both the United States and China. The name he used while in the United States was Hsue-Shen Tsien or H.S. Tsien.

During the 1940s Qian was one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. During the Second Red Scare of the 1950s, the United States government accused Qian of having communist sympathies, and he was stripped of his security clearance in 1950. Qian then decided to return to China, but instead was detained at Terminal Island near Los Angeles.

After spending 5 years under virtual house arrest, Qian was released in 1955, in exchange for the repatriation of American pilots captured during the Korean War. Notified by U.S. authorities that he was free to go, Qian immediately arranged his departure, leaving for China in September 1955, on the passenger liner SS President Cleveland of American President Lines, via Hong Kong.

He returned to lead the Chinese rocket program, and became known as the “Father of Chinese Rocketry” (or “King of Rocketry”).

He is the cousin of the mechanical engineer Hsue-Chu Tsien, and his nephew is the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry winner Roger Y. Tsien. Asteroid 3763 Qianxuesen and the ill-fated space ship Tsien in the science fiction novel 2010: Odyssey Two are named after him.

Qian Xuesen (Wade–Giles: Ch’ien Hsüeh-sên) was born in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, 180 km southwest of Shanghai. He left Hangzhou at the age of three, when his father obtained a post in the Ministry of Education in Beijing.

Qian graduated from The High School Affiliated to Beijing Normal University, then graduated from Chiao Tung University (now spelled Jiao Tong) in Shanghai in 1934 and received a degree in mechanical engineering, with an emphasis on railroad administration; he then spent an internship at Nanchang Air Force Base. In August 1935 Qian left China on a Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship to study mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a Master of Science degree from MIT a year later.

While at MIT he was influenced by the methods of American engineering education, and its focus on experimentation. Qian’s experiments included the plotting of plot pressures, using mercury filled manometers. (By contrast, most engineers in China at this time were not the “hands on” type; instead, theoretical studies were preferred.) Qian sought a school where his mathematical skills would be appreciated, and went to the California Institute of Technology to pursue his studies under Theodore von Kármán. Qian earned his doctorate from Caltech in 1939 with a thesis on slender body theory at high speeds.

He would remain on the Caltech faculty until his departure for China in 1955, becoming the Robert H. Goddard Professor of Jet Propulsion in 1949, and establishing a reputation as one of the leading rocket scientists in the United States.

It was shortly after arriving at Caltech in 1936 that Qian was attracted to the rocketry ideas of Frank Malina, other students of von Kármán, and their associates, including Jack Parsons. Around Caltech the dangerous and explosive nature of their work earned them the nickname “Suicide Squad.”

In his later years, since the 1980s, Qian advocated scientific investigation of traditional Chinese medicine, Qigong and “special human body functions”. Some people claim that Qian actually did not spend his effort[clarification needed] on qigong, but that he just expressed that people should consider the widely practiced qigong in a scientific manner. He particularly encouraged scientists to accumulate observational data on qigong for the establishment of future theories.

From the early 1980s he studied in a number of areas, and created systematics, contributed on science and technology system and somatic science, philosophy, natural sciences, engineering science, literature and art, military science, systems science, geography, social science, and education.

Advanced the concepts, theory and method on system science: open complex giant system, from qualitative to quantitative integration of Hall for Workshop of comprehensive and integrated system, and opened up a Chinese school of the Science of Complexity. Organizated scientific seminars and train successors.

In 2008, he was named Aviation Week and Space Technology Person of the Year. This selection is not intended as an honour but is given to the person judged to have the greatest impact on aviation in the past year.

In 2008, China Central Television named Qian as one of the eleven most inspiring people in China. He died at the age of 97 on October 31, 2009 in Beijing.

In July 2009, the Omega Alpha Association named Qian (H. S. Tsien) one of four Honorary Members in the international systems engineering honor society.

A Chinese film production Qian Xue Sen, directed by Zhang Jianya, stars Chen Kun as Qian, was released on 11 December 2011 in both Asia and North America.

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