Notable Deaths Elsewhere

November 02, 2009

QIAN XUESEN, 98

Father of China aerospace programs

Qian Xuesen, a former rocket scientist at the California Institute of Technology who helped establish the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., before being deported in 1955 on suspicion of being a Communist and who became known as the father of China's space and missile programs, has died. He was 98.

Qian, also known as Tsien Hsue-shen, died Saturday in Beijing, China's state news agency reported. The cause was not given.

Honored in his homeland for his "eminent contributions to science," Qian was credited with leading China to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles, Silkworm anti-ship missiles, weather and reconnaissance satellites and to put a human in space in 2003.

The man deemed responsible for these technological feats was also labeled a spy in the 1999 Cox Report issued by Congress after an investigation into how classified information had been obtained by the Chinese.

Qian, a Chinese-born aeronautical engineer educated at Caltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was a protege of Theodore von Karman, a Caltech professor who recognized him as an outstanding mathematician and "undisputed genius." Qian's research contributed to the development of "jet-assisted takeoff" technology that the U.S. military began using in the 1940s.

He was the founding director of the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Jet Propulsion Center at Caltech and a member of the university's so-called Suicide Squad of rocket experimenters who laid the groundwork for the testing done by JPL.

But his U.S. career came to a halt in 1950, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation accused him of being a member of a subversive organization. Qian packed up eight crates of belongings and set off for Shanghai, saying he and his wife and two young children wanted to visit his parents. Federal agents seized the containers, which they claimed contained classified materials, and arrested him on suspicion of subversive activity.

Qian denied any Communist leanings, rejected the accusation that he was trying to spirit away secret information and initially fought deportation. However, he later changed course and sought to return to China and, five years after his arrest, was shipped off in an apparent exchange for 11 U.S. airmen captured during the Korean War.

"I do not plan to come back," Qian told reporters. "I have no reason to come back. ... I plan to do my best to help the Chinese people build up the nation to where they can live with dignity and happiness."

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