AsianScientist (May. 7, 2021) – As proven by classic films like the original Star Wars trilogy and modern blockbusters like Avatar, space—in all its sheer vastness—has been a constant source of fascination for young and old alike. It’s no wonder then that people celebrate their love for the cosmos every first Friday of May.
Today, we’re celebrating Space Day the only way we know how: by honoring the pioneers who put Asia on the map in the international space race—earning their place in the International Astronautical Federation Hall of Fame in the process.
From developing Japan’s first fully domestic rocket to China’s first meteorological satellite, these scientists opened doors for new generations of Asian space explorers to visit worlds beyond our own.
1. From the rising sun to outer space
As one of Japan’s pioneering rocket scientists, Tomifumi Godai headed the production of the first domestically-made carrier rocket, H-II. After earning his bachelor’s degree in aeronautics from the University of Tokyo in 1957, he spent the first years of his career researching and developing rockets designed to carry instruments into sub-orbital flight for scientific experiments.
By 1982, Godai had joined the National Space Development Agency (NASDA), where he quickly set to work on his landmark achievement. Not only was H-II cheaper to produce compared to foreign rockets, but it also gave NASDA the prime opportunity to launch it from their very own Tanegashima Space Center in the 1990s.
True enough, in 1995, the agency launched an H-II rocket carrying the Space Flyer Unit—a spacecraft loaded with research data and testing materials. After spending nearly a year in the cosmos, it became the first Japanese spacecraft retrieved from outer space.
2. Marching China into the cosmos
Meanwhile, in China, rocket scientist Yu Menglun is best known for establishing the country’s launch vehicle trajectory design system. In 1970, the China National Space Administration launched the domestic rocket Long March, which kickstarted the nation’s journey of sending its own satellites into outer space.
Given the difficulties of safely returning satellites from space, Yu rose to the challenge—embarking on numerous simulations to identify the best trajectory for successful satellite return. In the process, he also made strides in improving the ability of rockets to carry cargo and withstand high-altitude winds.
For his efforts, Yu was elected to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1999. To this day, he remains a prominent space advocate, taking part in China’s own Space Day celebrations on the 24th of April every year.
3. Meet the satellite specialist
While Godai and Yu blazed the trail—literally—in rocket development, Meng Zhizhong from China dove deep into the science of satellites. Meng’s affair with space started with his involvement in the country’s artificial satellite engineering programs in 1965. Eventually, he rose to the position of chief designer of China’s first meteorological satellite called the FengYun-1, launched in 1988.
The satellite not only monitored China and the surrounding territory, but also delivered relevant data for weather forecasting. Since the program’s establishment, 17 satellites have been successfully launched it—with seven still orbiting the Earth to this day.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Meng also developed a fully digital three-axis-stabilised attitude control system that helps spacecraft stay in their desired orientation as well as China’s first folded collection of solar panels.
Much like space’s seemingly infinite size, these three pioneers have proven the limitless potential of Asia’s scientists. Discover more of the region’s best and brightest minds through the Asian Scientist 100, an annual celebration of Asia’s wealth of scientific talent.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Illustration: Oi Keat Lam/Asian Scientist.
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