Rocket scientists reach for the sky

Updated: 2016-10-07 07:41

By Zhao Lei(China Daily)

Rocket scientists reach for the sky

Spectators gather to witness the launch of Long March 7 at the Wenchang Launch Center in Hainan province on June 25. Huang Yibing / For China Daily

Ma Ying, 38, another senior engineer in the Long March 7 team and a leader of a sub-team, said, "every month, there are always some people in my office that are on business trips. Everyone in the office must be 'multifunctional' so they are able to handle various tasks."

He said overtime is common but no one has complained.

"We bond with each other because we all understand one person's mistake will affect others' work. We believe in team spirit," the engineer explained.

To support the rapid growth in the nation's space activities, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, which runs the rocket academy, began to expand its workforce several years ago.

The State-owned giant employed more than 5,300 university graduates in 2012, around 4,000 in 2013 and around 3,000 each year since 2014.

Ma noted that in the past, newcomers to the academy would have a certain period of time to get used to their tight schedules, but now most new recruits have to fit quickly into the fast-paced agenda from their first day.

According to Ma, about 30 percent in his sub-team are women but they are far removed from what may be the public's perception of female scientists. Just like women and men in other fields, they have various interests and hobbies but their commitment to the project is total.

"My female colleagues are devoted and dedicated to the work but they also pursue a quality life and maintain a good work-life balance."

These young female rocket designers are like Ma's sisters, he said, and in the rare moments that they have some time off, they like to socialize. "They often ask me to organize a party for the sub-team and of course, that I should pay the bill," he laughed.

Chen Rong, 33, a researcher on future launch vehicles at the academy, said she took part in the Long March 7's first mission. She recalls it was an exciting and memorable time.

"I was responsible for transmitting track information from the ground control center in Beijing to my colleagues in Wenchang during the launch process, and each second of that time was breathtaking and exciting," she recalled.

It was not uncommon for Chen and her husband, also a researcher at the academy, to be both busy so they ask their parents to take care of their 2-year-old daughter.

Moreover, Chen said she often worries about the schooling of her little girl.

"Nevertheless I am optimistic. China's space programs have great plans and bright prospects, so do we," she said.

"We will realize existing plans on schedule and resolve problems one by one. Meanwhile we will explore new fields. This approach applies to both the rocket development as well as my family's growth."

Before the end of this year, the latest product of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology - the Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket, will conduct its maiden flight from the Wenchang center.

Boasting a take-off weight of 869 tons, it can lift a 25-ton payload into low orbit or a 14-ton payload into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

The Long March 5 will be tasked with launching China's heavyweight spacecraft including the Chang'e 5 lunar probe, core module of the planned space station and Mars probes, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.

The company has also begun to develop a super-heavy rocket that will have a take-off weight of 3,000 tons and can thrust a 100-ton payload into low orbit, Yang Baohua, deputy general manager of the company, previously told reporters.

He noted that the gigantic rocket will be twice as tall and seven times more powerful than the Long March 7.

If the research and development proceed well, the super-heavy rocket will carry out its first flight around 2030, and then it will enable China to carry out manned missions to the moon and to send and retrieve Mars probes, he said.

Talking about the prospect of China's space programs, Yao Guowei, a development planner at the rocket academy, said he hopes that the nation's space industry could make more efforts to bolster creativity and innovation.

He also suggests that the industry should encourage more participation from the private sector and pay due consideration to the commercial aspect of the space market.