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Science Technology In China History Essay

Since time immemorial, man has looked to the stars and wished to be among them, and while man told itself tales of traveling into the realm of the gods, it was not until the invention of the rocket in 1100AD that man could do anything but dream of traveling to the heavens. It is only in the last fifty years that man has been able to make even the smallest and most cautious of baby steps into their vast realm. To date, there have been only three countries which have fully realized this long held dream. The newest member of this elite club is the People’s Republic of China. On October 15, 2003 China successfully sent their first Taikonaut, Yang Liwei into space. [1] This mission was the culmination years of modern research, development, industrialization, and dreams. While China may not have been the first country to send a man into space, they have learned from the trials and tribulations of both the USSR and USA, while dealing with many of their own. By modeling their rocket and space programs after those of the other spacefaring nations, China has been able to build upon the successes of Russia and the United States and make their own ‘firsts’ in space which are rapidly approaching the current capabilities of the founding members of the Space Race.

In keeping with the Needham puzzle, it is odd that China has been so far behind in the space race as it was China who developed the earliest rockets. The sophistication of these early rockets was astounding; they were counter balanced for increased flying distance, had bored nozzles to increase the consistency and potency of the burn, and even possessed multistage rockets for increased potency. [2] While these rockets were primarily used for war and spectacle, the idea to use them to reach the heavens was not lost on the Chinese people. According to legend, sometime in the 16th Century, Wan Hu, a Ming dynasty government official, gathered together forty-seven rockets and attached them to the bottom of a platform with a chair mounted upon it. His goal was to travel to the moon, and as legend goes, after the smoke from the rockets dissipated, both he and his chair were nowhere to be found. [3] While this was most certainly fatal, the basic principle was sound. This begs the question; ‘Why has China been so far behind in space exploration as compared to the United States and Russia?’ While that is an important question and an aspect of the Needham Puzzle, more important is what has been done in the last sixty years to catch up?

Like both the USA and Russia, China’s space program had its roots in their nuclear missile program. Unlike in the USA however, the Chinese military would remain the prominent developer of launch vehicles for both military and civilian purposes. [4] In her book The Chinese Space Program: A Mystery within a Maze, Joan Johnson-Freese states that the primary purpose of the Chinese rocketry program was an aspect of their Cold War defense strategy. [5] Behind this program was a single man who is credited as the driving force behind the whole of China’s rocketry and space programs, Tsien Hsue-shen. [6] 

Like much of Chinese history, Tsien’s personal history is unique. Tsien was born in 1911 in city of Hangzhou. [7] When he was three years old, his family moved from their ancestral home city to Beijing. Having shown scholastic aptitude from an early age, he applied and was admitted to the most prestigious and modern primary school in Beijing at that time. His teachers and classmates remarked on his meticulous attention to detail. [8] This would be much to his benefit later in life.

In 1934, he was awarded a Boxer Scholarship and subsequently attended MIT and then California Institute of Technology to study Aeronautical Engineering. [9] After earning his Doctorate in Aeronautical engineering, he went on to become one of the founding members of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, thus making him an important, but largely unknown, figure in United State’s history. [10] Unfortunately for the US, but quite fortunately for China, Tsien was caught up in the red scare of 1950s and was deported under suspicion of communist allegiances in 1955. [11] Shortly after his arrival in China, he was symbolically appointed to lead their fledgling missile program due to his understanding of what facilities, programs, and infrastructure were required to produce a viable arsenal. [12] 

Before Tsien’s arrival, there was no missile program. It was not until 1956 that one was suggested by a Soviet advisor. The advisor suggested that missile development should be part of their twelve-year plan for the 1956 to 1967 year period. [13] Taking both this and Tsien’s advice, the National Defense Science, Technology and Industry Commission (NDSTIC) and the Fifth Academy were formed to do research and development of rocket technologies. To aide with this process, the USSR donated two R-1, and then a year later, two R-2 type rockets. Originally it seems that the goal was to develop delivery systems for their nuclear bomb project but following the launch of Sputnik, Chairman Mao said, “We want to make artificial satellites.” [14] Much then like the United States, the transition from pure delivery systems to launch system started with the launch of Sputnik. The space program could then be said to have finally been born.

Unfortunately, the Chinese space program was almost immediately set back as a result of the ‘Great Leap Forward’. The universal hardship which followed these policies set back the rocket development program several years. To make matters worse, following the Sino-Soviet split in 1958, they lost the support of the Soviet Union. Full scale development did not begin again until the mid 60s. [15] 

The resumption of the missile program brought with it a more realistic incremental approach to progress in what they referred to as the 1059 program. [16] Up until this point, the missile development was expected to progress rapidly without the need for intermediary steps. That is to say, Chinese officials felt that there was no need to develop short and medium range missiles before going to develop long range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). [17] To execute this plan they would start with the short-and medium-range missiles they had and progressively work toward an ICBM. This initiated the Dong Feng (DF) program which, in a number of progressive steps would produce a Chinese ICBM.

This incremental approach would allow Chinese scientists to develop their own expertise to replace that which was lost in the Sino-Soviet split. The Dong Feng program would be the first independent success. The DF series was intentionally designed to push the limits of Chinese technology by Tsien himself, saying that he would not “be satisfied with a primitive intercontinental ballistic missile.” [18] 

In parallel to the Dong Feng program, a program to develop a satellite launch vehicle, the Long March (LM) rocket, was established. [19] This program used may

Shortly after the initial successes of the missile program, the Cultural Revolution began. This decade long period saw many rocket scientist and engineers imprisoned, killed, or otherwise removed from missile development. Xie Xide, like Tsien Hsue-shen, was an important leader in the space program who spent most of the decade being “criticized” by the Red Guard. Xie Xide said this of the students of the time; “They were so-called worker-peasant-soldier students, and most were hopelessly unqualified.” [20] Despite of the enormous difficulties they faced, the first Chinese satellite was launched in 1970 on a LM-1 rocket. [21] 

The first successful satellite was named Dong Fang Hong I and was the heaviest first satellite launched by any of the launch capable countries. [22] This advancement should have lead to manned space flight within a decade as it had for both the USSR and the USA. The setbacks of the Cultural Revolution made this impossible. The original plan for manned space flight was established on August 10, 1965 by Zhou Enlai at the 13th meeting of the Central Special Committee and set a path to a manned flight in 1979. [23] This plan called for the use of a yet to be developed long-range missile to deliver the manned capsule into orbit for no more than eight days. This plan was later terminated following the development of an ICBM in 1974. In doing this, a new space policy was formed. This policy called for the cessation of manned flight activities citing the wild USSR-USA space race and its lack of practicality. From this point forward, China’s sole space ambitions were focused on satellites. [24] 

The new and exclusively satellite driven program was focused on providing both a reliable method of delivery and improving the technology in the payloads. The first recoverable satellite, which would have been the first step in a manned capsule, was successfully launched and recovered in 1975. [25] The main focus in the satellite field was the creation of a space communication network. These communication satellites would allow the Chinese government to both broadcast information to the people of more remote areas and to coordinate their military forces throughout the region. [26] 

The success of the Chinese Satellite program brought them to the conclusion that like the USA and the USSR, they should enter into the space launch industry. In 1985, China’s first attempt to sell their launch services was directed to COMSAT. [27] The idea behind offering launch services was to tap into the lucrative market to help finance their own programs. In response, the United States put pressure on China, and in 1988 formed an agreement which demanded that China: would not undercut the existing launch industry providers; would not launch more than 11 times until 1994; would not launch more than 9 communications satellites. Concessions were made to adjust the number of launches. [28] 

The successes, while not universal, inspired China to once again seek manned spaceflight. While the majority of their focus was still satellites for strategic and economic gain, in 1992, at a Politburo meeting, Jiang Zemin and the committee approved a new manned spaceflight plan. This plan, the Shenzhou programme, called for a space capsule, the use of the JiuQuan Satellite launch center, and the creation of ancillary technologies and support systems. [29] While it took five years to being the approved program, it progressed very rapidly and the first successful launch of an unmanned space capsule, Shenzhou I, was accomplished on November 20, 1999. The first successful launch of the manned vehicle Shenzhou V occurred on October 15th 2003 utilizing a LM-2F rocket. Their first taikonaut, as they call their astronauts, was Yang Liwei, a fighter pilot. [30] Following this launch, in 2005, the Shenzhen VI was launched with two taikonauts aboard. [31] 

The Progress which China has made is remarkable, but there are several critics about their program. The chief criticism is the dual use nature of the program. Some US analysts feel that the civil program is a façade to cover the militant aims of China. [32] This is a legitimate concern as China has made claims to have created “parasite satellites” [33] and other anti-satellite weapons. [34] While it is likely inevitable that space will be militarized beyond reconnaissance and communications, China has changed the playing field which used to be dominated by the United States.

The progress and speed in which China has been able to accomplish one of the most prestigious scientific feats in the world is simply stunning. With the second largest economy in the world and a world class space program, China will be a force to reckon with in whatever future lies ahead. China has set its eyes on the creation of both a space station and a moon base. [35] These developments will put pressure on the United States as it finds itself in the uncomfortable position of having competition. China has nearly reached the same technical levels of the older, more experience space players and if played correctly, will bring China to be the dominate space power.

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