Saturday, 28 July 2012

Spacemen of the world (3) - China's Taikonauts

Tiangong 1 天空1号 module was successfully launched and positioned in outer space in Sept. 2011

For the past decades China had diligently pursued its part to play in aerospace research, explorations and expeditions without much publicity and fanfare. The successful docking of the Shenzhou 8 capsule神舟8 with the Tiangong 1 module 天空1 caught the cautious and eager attention of NASA and other international space-science players who could not believe China’s achievement had progressed by leaps and bounds. The first China’s orbital docking was completed on November 2nd 2011, and undocked on November 14th 2011. The effort of China’s venture into outer space suffered a humiliation (not necessary a setback) when the US Congress imposed a unilateral rule to limit cooperation between China and American aeronautical engineering activities following the June 4th 1989 incident at Tiananmen Square. The Chinese authority used excessive force to suppress their students during a mass pro-democracy demonstration when the event went ugly. It was reported that thousands of student died during that chaos. For that matter China was also banned from using the International Space Station in the outer space as it was confined to 15 membership-nations.

This Long March II-F T1 carrier rocket carried Tiangong 1 module into aerospace in Sept. 2011 to prepare for ShenZhou Capsules 神舟  to dock into the module.

Thought the docking mechanism had been developed since the ‘60s by the NASA as well as their Soviet counterpart, it was by no means a simple feat for the Chinese as they started on their own from scraps. Aerospace critics commented that China’s resilience and self-reliance contributed towards the historical breakthrough. Bolstered by enhanced confidence, China next targets to launch its own space laboratory in the form of a Space Station by 2020; it will open to all global space scientists when it is operational.

Maj. Liu Yang 浏阳 waved to a cheering crowd during the departure ceremony in Gansu Province prior to the launching of the Spacecraft ShenZhou 9 on June 16th 2012.

Liu Yang, an amicable 33 year-old Chinese Air force fighter pilot with the rank of major was the first Chinese woman Taikonaut. She joined two other comrades aboard the ShenZhou 9 spacecraft 神舟9when it blasted its way out of atmosphere from a remote Gobi Desert launch site. The Chinese Taikonauts returned to earth after a 13 day-mission on June 29th 2012 when their capsule landed in Western Inner Mongolia deploying a parachute. Liu Yang and her co-Taikonauts’s latest adventure in aerospace greatly prompted a surge in China’s national pride as the country reveled and rejoiced with the successful mission.

Tiangong 1 module 天空1 had been in aerospace since Sept. 2011 awaiting more mission spacecrafts to be docked into it.

China’s Father of Rocketry – Qian Xuesen錢學森1911-2009 (Name was spelt as Ch'ien Hsüeh-sên in early years)

The legacy and important contribution left by Qian Xuesen (1911-2009) could not be ignored in China’s ambition in research and development of aerospace science. Qian’s career in aerospace technology began when he left China to pursue a master of mechanical engineering at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology, after he graduated with his first degree at Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University. In 1939 he earned his doctorate with his research on slender body theory at high speeds at Caltech (California Institute of Technology). Together with his mentors and fellow scientists, Qian quickly earned his undisputed reputation as a leading jet propulsion and rocket researcher. Some of his early works in the US would inspire and influence in the development of the present day space shuttle. After World War II he was commissioned at the US army with the rank of Colonel (a temporary one though) to join his doctorate adviser Von Karman to investigate the progress of wartime aerodynamics research in Germany. It was during his query into Germany’s advances in high speed propulsion his distinguished knowledge at the relevant field was noted as he impressed everyone.

Prominent Chinese aerospace scientist Qian Xuesen and his wife Jiang Ying married in 1947 before China turned red to embrace communism in 1949

In 1947 September Qian married Jiang Ying who was well-known as a Chinese opera singer. Shortly after that Qian left Shanghai to take up a teaching position at MIT. However his fate took a twisted turn as Qian was accused of being a communist as he applied for naturalization in 1949. Qian found himself in an adverse situation whereby he was being suspected by FBI and the department of naturalization and immigration. Clearly he was victimized by McCarthyism which raised its ugly head to pursue relentlessly leftists and communist sympathizers. With his application tuned down and his security clearance revoked, Qian could not carry out his normal work as a researcher and a college professor. He announced his wish to leave for his homeland, viz. China. Instead of approving his application for naturalization, the US government imprisoned him and later placed him under house arrest for a long 5 year, for a crime that never took place. Qian was accused of dispatching a secret document to China and the FBI deemed it as an act of espionage. It turned up to be logarithm tables for common use in schools and colleges.

Col. Qian wearing his military cap quizzed German scientist Ludwig Prandtl (Left) together with Theodore Von Karman about German's progress in wartime aerodynamics research after the WWII.

There were sporadic voices that could be heard for his cause. The undersecretary of the Navy at that time Dan A. Kimball loudly exclaimed: “It was the stupidest thing the country ever did; he was no more a communist that I was, and we forced him to go.” Caltech’s president Lee DuBridge flew to Washington to argue Qian’s case with Grant Cooper as the attorney to defend Qian. Later Cooper had this to say in expressing the feeling of Qian’s supporters: “…..that the government permitted this genius, this scientific genius to be sent to communist China, to pick his brain is one of the tragedies of the century.”

Professor Qian Xuesen suffered stoically and was humiliated by the FBI during his incarceration from 1949-1955 

Though he was supported by his loyal colleagues and fellow US scientists during his incarceration, appeals for his release were largely ignored. In the end of his 5 year-imprisonment, poor Qian became a hostage for exchange when China and the US swapped him for the repatriation of a US pilot captured during the Korean War. He left for China in 1955 to begin his illustrated career in the aerospace industry for his motherland China.

Professor Qian was the Head of Missile Academy in which he helped to form shortly after his return in 1955.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao greeted Qian Xuesen, the founder of China's space technology, during his visit to Qian in Beijing on Aug. 6, 2009. Qian passed away on Oct.31st 2009

In 1979 Caltech awarded the coveted Distinguished Alumni Award to Qian Xuesen in recognition of his contribution towards aerospace research works. Qian did not receive the award until the normalization of Sino-US relationship took place in the 80s. Qian turned down earnest invitation to visit US as he wanted an official apology for his wrongful detention. The US in face-saving ethics would never admit any gross mistake done in the past. His friend Frank Marble who represented Caltech to offer him the award, said that though Qian might have resentment and had lost faith in the US government at that time, deep in his heart, he would always have very warm feeling for the American people.

Qian Xuesen died peacefully at the ripe age of 97 in Beijing in Oct. 31st 2009.

Chinese university students carried and displayed large banner to mark the passing of one great pioneer in aerospace science in 2009.

Alan CY Kok

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