Chinese Space Activities in the 1950s
Dr Qian Xue-sen, the father of Chinese rocketry and space programme, returned to China from the U.S. in 1955 after spending five years in house arrest
China first obtained the Russian R-2 (SS-2 Sibling) technology in 1957, and the first successful test of the missile took place in 1960
China’s space programme was born in the mid-1950s, when the Chinese military began to develop missile and nuclear weapons under the assistance of the Soviet Union. Following the success of the Soviet Union and the United States in launching their first artificial satellites, the Chinese leadership announced in 1958 that the country would develop its own space programme. However, China’s first satellite programme (Project 581) failed to take off as a result of the country’s economic hardship in the late 1950s and the split up of the Beijing-Moscow alliance in 1960.
September: After spending 5 years in house arrest, Dr Qian Xue-sen, an American-educated leading rocket scientist, returned to China from the United States, where he was accused being a Communist sympathizer. Dr Qian received a warm welcome by the Chinese leadership and was given a leading role in China’s rocket and missile programme. Dr Qian was later hailed as the "Father of Chinese rocketry and space programme".
8 October: The Fifth Academy (Missile Academy) was formed as China's first missile research and development organisation. Dr Qian Xue-Sen was appointed as the head of the academy.
September: A senior Chinese military delegate visited Moscow to negotiate for the Soviet help on China’s missile and nuclear weapon programme. In October, the two countries agreed on an assistance package that included the transfer of Soviet missile technologies and assistance in building a rocket and missile range in China.
4 October: The Soviet Union successfully launched the world’s first artificial Earth satellite Sputnik 1 into the orbit. The success not only shocked the Americans, but also inspired the Chinese leadership to pursue the country's own space programme.
December: A train of railroad cars carrying two R-2 (NATO designation: SS-2 Sibling) missiles and their ground equipment and crews arrived at Beijing from Russia. The missiles were handed over to the Chinese military and the Soviet crew trained the Chinese on the operation of the missile.
January: The search for a suitable site for the missile range began. A team led by General Chen Xi-lian and other senior military officials and the Soviet advisers surveyed various locations in northern China, and finally spotted a suitable site in Ejin-Banner County, on the west edge of the Badain Jaran Desert in northwest China. The plan to construct a rocket and missile range at this location was officially approved by the Central Military Commission (CMC) on 3 March.
April: The construction of China's first rocket and missile test range began. Over 100,000 soldiers and civilian labours worked relentlessly for two years in the Badain Jaran Desert to build the facilities. The Soviet Union supplied telemetry and tracking, computing, and time synchronisation instruments, and also supervised the construction project.
17 May: During the Second Session of the Eighth Communist Party Conference, the Chinese leader Chairman Mao Zedong announced that China would develop and launch its own satellite to match the Russians and Americans. Chinese scientists were asked to come up with a plan to launch a satellite by late 1959 or early 1960. The programme was given a code name Project 581.
16 October: The Science Commission for National Defence was formed to oversee China's missile and nuclear weapon programme.
20 October: The Northwest Joint Missile Test Base (西北综合导弹试验基地), or Base 20 in its military code name, was officially formed to be responsible for managing the rocket and missile range.
Last updated: 23 January 2012