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Engineering & Applied Science: Remembering JPL co-founder

Remembering JPL co-founder


Tsien Hsue-shen. 10.1-10


Tsien's talent was recognized during his student years at Jiaotong University in Shanghai. He came to the United States in 1935, first to study engineering at MIT, then to complete his graduate work in aeronautics at Caltech. After working closely with his mentor Theodore von Karman to transform American rocketry during World War II, he traveled behind the Allied armies into the heart of Europe to study German missiles. He became a key figure in the transition from propeller-driven aircraft to jet engines and finally to outer space rockets, collaborating with Von Karman and Frank Malina in the founding of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena for the U.S. Army. In 1948 he was invited to become the Robert H. Goddard Professor and head of the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Jet Propulsion Center at Caltech.

Photo ID: 10.3.1-7

Shown above: Pictured in Germany, 1945 (from left), Hugh L. Dryden, Ludwig Prandtl, Von Karman and Tsien. Photo ID: 1.17-12

Political trouble began for Tsien in 1950 when his security clearance was revoked on the grounds that he had Communist associations. Although President Lee DuBridge of Caltech rallied to Tsien's defense, as did most of his scientific colleagues, in the end Tsien himself decided to return to China in 1955. Once repatriated, Tsien became the leader of China's space and military rocketry programs.

Obituaries of Tsien appeared in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times.

Tsien's Chinese alma mater, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, built a commemorative museum to Tsien. Delegates from the university and the museum project visited the Caltech Archives in September 2009 to look at documents and photos concerning Tsien. Some of these materials were incorporated into exhibits in China. The museum opened in 2011, the 100th year of Tsien's birth.