Sun Jiadong:Chief engineer of Dongfanghong 1

China Plus Published: 2019-09-26 20:36:55
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Sun Jiadong, the chief designer of China's first satellite and has witnessed all of the significant moments in the history of China's aerospace exploration.[Photo:VCG]

Sun Jiadong, the chief designer of China's first satellite and has witnessed all of the significant moments in the history of China's aerospace exploration.[Photo:VCG]

The Medal of the Republic is China's highest honor. It's awarded to prominent figures who have made great contributions to the construction and the development of the People's Republic of China. As part of our series on the Republic honor laureates, CRI's Guo Yan brings us the story of Sun Jiadong. He's the chief designer of China's first satellite and has witnessed all of the significant moments in the history of China's aerospace exploration.

The moment when the melody of "Dongfanghong", "The East is Red", was broadcast in space nearly half a century ago is an indelible memory in the mind of China's top space scientist, Sun Jiadong. Sun was the technical director of the Dongfanghong 1, the country`s first man-made satellite, which was successfully launched on April 24, 1970. The 90-year-old says his excitement was beyond words when he first heard the melody and realized that his hard work had paid off.

"I remember when word came through that the satellite was launched successfully. People flocked to Tian'anmen Square, it was buzzing with excitement and joy. We are very proud of that. I took part in the project, and I experienced all of the ups and downs along the way to success."

Sun Jiadong is widely acclaimed as a pioneer in research into man-made satellite and deep space exploration, a field the engineer has dedicated himself to for six decades. His work has helped China to make remarkable achievements in space exploration, from launching its first man-made satellite, to its lunar exploration program and launching the Beidou satellite navigation system.

In 1958, Sun graduated as a straight-A student from an air force engineering academy in the Soviet Union, and became a missile researcher. 9 years later, thanks to his outstanding performance, Sun was put forward to be the chief designer of China's first man-made satellite.Sun said that back then, China's early space explorers faced tough research conditions and limited resources.

"After China unveiled its reform and opening up policy, the then NASA administrator came to China for a visit. I remember him asking me, how did we manage to conduct our experiments under such poor conditions? That visit was in the 1980s, when our research environment had already been greatly improved. You can imagine what the conditions were like in the 1950s and 60s."

But alongside the moments of glory, there have also been dark hours.In 1974, China's first recoverable satellite exploded right after the carrier rocket blasted off from the launch pad. Sun was in charge of the project.

"We got to the site immediately, only to find it engulfed by fire. My mind was totally blank. I was a little bit emotional, I think. For three days and nights, we stayed there in the freezing Gobi Desert, and searched through the wreckage of the space craft to collect even the tiny stuff, like threads of wire and screws. We finally found that the fault was caused by a break in a tiny thread of wire."

Sun said the team learned from the incident, and put more emphasis on the finer details of their work, as a little neglect breeds mischief, while quality always prevails.

"We stressed quality from the source, from the very beginning of any project we conducted. All of the materials and components made by us or our partners should be carefully examined. We gradually established a sound and stringent work system that ensures not a single link is neglected and to secure quality products."

Chen Minkang is the chief designer of one of the Long March series of carrier rockets. He said he admires Sun's courage to face the difficulties of his work head on.

"Despite his age and physical condition, he always goes to the site of the major launch missions he's in charge of. He has a great sense of responsibility for every tiny detail of his work, and always sticks to his principles."

Despite having already earned numerous honors, Sun's pursuit of space exploration has never ceased. In 2004, when he was 75 years old, he took part in China's lunar exploration project. After years of tough work, Sun and his team launched China's first lunar probe, Chang'e-1, into orbit around the moon.

When the space craft reached its orbit, Sun burst into tears amid a cheering crowd.

"At that moment, I felt so proud, words couldn't describe it. It brought me a strong sense of accomplishment to be a member of that team, and to be a part of such a vital mission for the country."

The prominent scientist Ouyang Ziyuan is a former chief of the lunar probe project. He said he was impressed by the optimistic attitude Sun always brought to his work.

"He once said to me some people tend to make a simple matter complicated, while engineers always simplify complicated issues, and go all out to resolve the problems that they encounter."

Sun's dream to reach the far side of the moon was accomplished with China's Chang'e-4 probe, when it made its historic landing there in January. The success of that project is deemed a critical step towards China's bigger dreams of space exploration. President Xi Jinping once said, "All of the achievements we have made today come from concrete actions, not empty words."

This lesson is certainly true of China's achievements in space exploration, which are the result of a lifetime of dedication by scientists and engineers like Sun Jiadong, who looked to the sky to pursue their dreams, and reached for the stars.

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