26 April 2015

The Humble Beginnings of China's Space Program

April 25, 2015

In a fascinating piece yesterday, Xinhua traced theorigins of China’s space program, an exercise inspired by the 45th anniversary of China’s first satellite launch. The Dongfanghong-1 was launched on April 24, 1970, the culmination of years of research – and far from the end of China’s fervent quest to prove itself worthy of membership in the “space club.”

The Xinhua piece emphasizes the hardships and obstacles facing China’s early aeronautics engineers. Wang Xiji recounted how, in an early attempt to design a sounding rocket, “researchers had to calculate their computations by hand or by abacus… The computing papers were stacked higher than their desks.” In addition to the difficulty of performing scientific tasks in primitive conditions, scientists also had to scramble to meet political requirements, such as figuring out how to have the satellite broadcast “The East Is Red” (or “Dongfang Hong,” a song praising Mao Zedong, and the source of the satellite’s name) and how to artificially inflate its size to make it visible from Earth. The scientists even had to get special permission from Premier Zhou Enlai to remove Mao badges from the satellite equipment when they discovered that the extra weight posed a problem.

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