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10/31/2010

One year ago: Qian Xuesen

October 31, 2010 |  6:30 am

Qian "It was the stupidest thing this country ever did."

That's what former Navy Secretary Dan Kimball said, according to Aviation Week, about the U.S. deportation of Qian Xuesen, a rocket scientist who became known as the father of China's space and missile programs.

Chinese-born Qian came to the United States in 1935 on a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and, after earning his masters degree there, went on to Caltech for his doctoral studies. He went on to teach and do research at both schools.

During his career, Qian contributed to the development of the "jet-assisted takeoff" technology, and he was the founding director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech.

But his brilliant career in the United States came to a screeching halt in 1950, when the FBI accused him of being a Communist and planning to exchange classified material. He denied the accusations and initially fought deportation.

After years of intense scrutiny and partial house arrest, however, he gave in and actively sought to return to his native China. In 1955, five years after his arrest, he was shipped off in an apparent exchange for 11 American airmen captured during the Korean War.

He was welcomed as a hero in China and became director of China's rocket research, a position from which he was credited with leading the country to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles, Silkworm anti-ship missiles, weather and reconnaissance satellites and putting a human in space in 2003.

For more on the scientist and the drama surrounding his deportation, read Qian Xuesen's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Qian Xuesen in 1948.

Credit: Associated Press

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