Innovators at ChemChina
The stories behind China's dream of flying
Source: China National Tire&Rubber Corporation Date: 2011-12-28

The Northwest Rubber & Plastic Products Research Institute's Aerospace Sealing Products Laboratory

A new page was turned in the history of China's space program at 9:16 pm on Sept 29, 2011, when China's "Tiangong-1" (Heavenly Palace) spacecraft lifted off the pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. It went on to complete an experimental space docking and mark a significant step forward for China in its efforts to establish a space station and a milestone in its manned space flight history.

China keeps embarking on new journeys into outer space, from its "Shenzhou 1" to "Shenzhou 4" unmanned spacecraft, and from its "Shenzhou 5" to "Shenzhou 7" manned spacecraft, all of them embodying the wisdom and sweat of aerospace workers and support organizations. And Tiangong-1 was no exception. From the end of 2008 to the end of 2010, science and technology personnel at the Northwest Rubber & Plastic Products Research Institute's Aerospace Seal Products Lab are reported to have developed more than 8,000 rubber seals for Tiangong-1, for ground tests, for spare parts and for the spacecraft itself. From the relatively small number of simple "O" rings to the biggest item, most of the seals were complex in structure. The pass rate was 100 percent and they ensured the success of the ground tests and the mission itself.

Over a two-year period, the 13 technicians at the lab never shied away from the hard work. To do the necessary research and develop the rubber seals for Tiangong-1 and to make China's "dream of flying" come true, they gave up their spare time and worked overtime to ensure the quality. And when Tiangong-1 took off, the pride, excitement, bitterness, and joy, all kinds of emotions welled up in their hearts and could be seen on their faces and tears ran down their cheeks. They were more than excited because they were emotionally attached to Tiangong-1. Few people, however, know the true stories behind the glory. Here are a few of them.

Fan Shoumin is a Party member and above the age of 70, so it would seem appropriate for Fan to want to enjoy retired life -- but that was not the case. Just as the "fine old ox runs without a whip" in Zang Kejia's poem drives itself, so the spirit for hard work is the real description of Fan's work. He has a lot of experience in controlling the production of rubber reservoirs and, during the two years of research and development of the Tiangong-1 project, it was not uncommon to find him working overtime, even without stopping for meals. Once, when they were working on a rubber high-octane fuel tank for a client from Shanghai, Fan and the technologists worked from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm because of the technical requirements and limited conditions. One young man suddenly realized that they's forgotten lunch and really felt sorry for causing a 70-year-old man to suffer. Fan wouldn't hear of it and said, with a smile, "For Tiangong-1 and for China's 'dream of flying', what does skipping a meal matter?"

Xie Xiaohua is a main supporter of the mission. The Tiangong-1 seals will stay in space for a long time, which means they have more product specifications and safety requirements. To meet this immense challenge, Xie has not had time to look after her child for a long time. Once, when her son had a fever of 39℃, she didn't have time to take him to the hospital. And she repeatedly promised her son that she would go out with him, but she was never able to keep her promise. To her great regret, one time when she promised that she would take him to the park on his birthday, she was working until very late and completely forgot it. When she dragged her tired body home, her son threw himself into her arms and asked her to take him to the park. Previously, no matter how hard the work was, she never shed a tear on the job, but, at that moment, looking at her son's face, she couldn't control her emotions anymore and burst into tears. To support the "flying" dream, she didn't have time to look after her old father-in-law and mother-in-law and once, when her mother-in-law fell ill and was hospitalized, just so it wouldn't affect her daytime work, she talked things over with her family and decided to look after her mother-in-law at night. She didn't sleep for the whole night and the next day, went to work as usual. For the "flying" dream, she gave of herself and paid too much.

Every aerospace worker has a supportive family

Liu Chenggang is a young man who graduated from university two years ago. He's hardworking, cautious, and conscientious and began his job when Tiangong-1 was a pressing issue. While people his age were enjoying surfing the Internet, shopping and dating, he was busy mixing and blending rubber on the  front lines. His clothes, face and hands were often covered with carbon black. His fiancée asked him to go shopping with her, but he failed to keep the appointment time and time again. He discussed this with his fiancée and they decided to postpone their wedding several times just so it would not to affect his work schedule. They put the wedding ceremony off until September. But his wife understands and said, "All family members of aerospace workers face the same situation, and are bitter but proud. This may not be understood by outsiders." When this reporter spoke with her, she kept smiling and added, "They're a group of down-to-earth people who are indulged in their work. Chenggang thinks about technical matters every moment. When he's off occasionally, he'll be at a loose ends. When he's with me, he's often in a daze." In the company, many young couples are like Liu Chenggang and every aerospace worker has a supportive family.

With the boom in China's aerospace programs, there will be more supporting tasks and more room for scientists and technologists at the Aerospace Sealing Products Lab to put their talent to good use. They'll certainly make an outstanding contribution. Tiangong-1 has taken off and made our "dream of flying" come true. In the future, there will be more of these dreams and the scientists will continue to work hard and without complaint or regret to contribute their wisdom and energy to the Chinese aerospace cause. (Northwest Rubber & Plastic Products Research Institute Wu Xinguo and Li Lulu)

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