Ren Xinmin, a scientist whose dedication and expertise propelled China's aerospace industry onto the world stage, died on Sunday afternoon in Beijing. He was 102.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the country's major space contractor, announced his death.
Ren was a famed expert in missile and rocket technologies who helped build China's first artificial satellite. Alongside Tu Shou'e, Huang Weilu and Liao Shounie, he was regarded as one of the "Four Elders of China's Aerospace", only exceeded by the founder of China's aerospace industry, Qian Xuesen.
Ren is the last of the four to pass away, but people from the industry remembered him fondly by the moniker "the Chief Chief Engineer".
Born on Dec 5, 1915, Ren, the son of an elementary school teacher in Ningguo, Anhui province, received his doctorate in applied mechanics from the University of Michigan in 1945, and became the first Chinese lecturer at the University of Buffalo in 1948, teaching mechanical engineering.
However, Ren returned the following year to the newly formed People's Republic of China out of "high hopes for the new nation".
In 1956, Ren, a professor at Harbin Institute of Military Engineering, met Qian, who asked Ren to "aim for the stars" and join the Defense Ministry's Fifth Research Institute, the predecessor of CASC.
Throughout the mid-20th century, Ren's fingerprints covered projects from China's first missile to the first artificial satellite and the first human spaceflight.
He designed and launched China's first short-range ballistic missile - Dongfeng 1 - in November 1960, then expanded the range and capability of the Dongfeng series,making it the backbone of today's People's Liberation Army Rocket Force.
In 1970, Ren and his team designed the Long March 1 carrier rocket and sent China's first artificial satellite - the Dongfanghong 1 - into orbit. In 1981, he directed China's first multi-satellite loaded rocket into space, making China one of only four countries to achieve this feat. The other three are the United States, Russia and India.
At age 75, Ren took on the mantle of chief engineer for five more projects, including China's first Fengyun 1 weather satellite, and oversaw China's launch of its first international commercial satellite made by US company Hughes Corp.
But Ren's dream was to send people into space, so he pushed for China's manned space flight program in 1992. Despite being in his 80s, Ren insisted on participating in every major seminar on the program and gave advice whenever he could.
In 2003, Ren witnessed Yang Liwei, China's first man in space, flying the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft into the sky. When interviewed, he could only murmur: "Good, good, very good," according to a report by China Aerospace Daily.
In 2014, Ren was hospitalized due to illness, but he still paid close attention to the latest development of the Chinese aerospace industry. When Lei Fanpei, the CASC chairman, came to visit him, Ren said, "I really hope Long March 5 can fly soon," according to the report.