H.S. Tsien

A deported top US aerospace scientist of Chinese origin.

He had the last laugh at the American States Department and the US Immigration.

How did I hear of Qian Xuesen this famous Chinese rocket scientist?

Qian Xuesen 钱学森 also known as HS Tsien is the Chinese scientist responsible for China's rocket and space program.  He is also helped developed China's first atomic bomb. He is famous for having been deported back to China from the US by the US Imigration.  He had the last laugh!  

When I was doing my master degree in Aerospace Engineering at the Aerospace Institute, University of Toronto, I did my master thesis on the buckling of rocket shells under axial load. 

The actual buckling load was much lower than the predicted load.  So there were plenty publications by many famous mathematician and physicists as to why this is so.

von Karman is the father of US astronautics.  He published a very elegant mathematical formulation to show that the low buckling load is the result of the post buckling behaving.  I noticed that his co author is HS Tsien a Chinese sounding name.  Tsien is a star student of von Karman

I soon found out that he is a colonel in the US Army, a rank just below a general.  This lead to a 50 year fascination with this person.  The picture on the left show a young colonel Tsien with von Karman departing for Germany just after the second world war to interview V rocket scientists to recruit to the US.

Tsien, I later found out he was also the chairman of the Jet Propulsion Lab in California.  He is in fact the most famous UC Berkeley alumni,

Tsien found himself interviewing Wernher von Braun and other members of the V-2 Rocket Team in Kochl. Von Braun prepared for Tsien a seminal report, Survey of Development of Liquid Rockets in Germany and Their Future Prospects', which provided the road map for future space vehicle development in the United States

During the McCarthy hysteria in the 1950's he was accused as a communist sympathiser simply because he attended a social function in another Chinese national's private home. He loss  his high security clearance and US citizenship.  He wanted to return to China.  The US Immigration wanted to deport him back to China but the US  States Department said not so fast:  

“He is equivalent to 5 battalions”

He was keep under house arrest for 5 years on Ellis Island

While under house arrest he wrote the book, Cybernetics.

This book is on how to control the flight path of a rocket.  Book is a classic foundation of control system.  Modern control system in electrical engineering and modern robotics are based on the foundation of this book.

The original edition of the book is still in great demand but is out of print.  You can buy a copy of the original edition on Amazon for $350.  I bought this book for $3.50 on Amazon as a condemn copy from U of Wisconsin library.

He was deported back to China in 1956 after 5 years of house arrest at Ellis Island detention center and his US citizenship revoked. He is seen here as president of the Institute of Mechanics, Beijing after his repatriation to China in 1956 in exchange for 2 captured US soldiers from the Korean war.  His repatriation was arranged by Premier Chou En Lai of the PRC.

For years in lived in a Government apartment near Beijing University in chong guan chun, China's silicon valley.  He was a neighbour of my uncle.

He was very bitter about the way the States Department treated him and vowed never to return to the US even when the University of California wanted to invite him back to Berkeley to honour him as an outstanding alumni in 1985. 

He was honored by Chairman Mao in 1967 as the most valuable scientist in all of China for:


Iris Chang in her book give a detail history of Tsien early years to his days at MIT then to his later years in China.  How as part of the early rocket team in the US he felt out of place because of his lack of practical experience.

He is widely recognized as the “father of Chinese aerospace” for his role in establishing China's ballistic missile program.

According to estimates, China has up to 90 intercontinental range ballistic missiles (66 land-based ICBMs and 24 submarine-based JL-2 SLBMs), not counting MIRV warheads.  Tsien has the best revenge against the US States Department by building up an ICBM program that rivals that of that of the United States.

Lesser known is the factor that he helped build China's first atomic bomb.  Professor Ribner an aerospace scientist at the University of Toronto who personally knew Tsien said that he is that smart to be able to build rockets as well as atomic bomb.

Forget about the accolades pile on Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson for having pioneered Space Tourism.  Tsien as early as the 1950's was the first person to propose travel by a near space route to cut long haul flight from New York to Paris from 8 hours down to 2 hours by a near space route.  He worked out the mathematics and proposed this as making most sense by propelling a vehicle into near space where the atmosphere is thin and let then let the vehicle glide to its destination saving both fuel and time.  He is the first to see that this makes most sense.

He used this knowledge to develop the huge Chinese ICBM program to rival that of the United States.

His idea of near space travel predates today's space tourism by many decades.  Perhaps it should be called the Tsien trajectory in honour of his great insight to this possibility.