Lunar researcher dies from overwork

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2011, 12:00am


A key designer involved in China's lunar exploration project died last week, aged 40, due to overwork, The Beijing News has reported.

Chen Tianzhi, a deputy designer of the Chang'e project, fell into a coma in his office on September 6. He had been working without taking a break for months, according to people close to him.

Doctors found massive bleeding in his brain when he arrived at a hospital emergency room. They conducted several operations, but failed to revive him from the coma. He died on Thursday.

Chen's employer, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, held a public funeral for the researcher in Babaoshan, a cemetery to the west of Beijing on Monday.

The company - the mainland's biggest operator of space projects - has attracted online criticism for subjecting young scientists to a high-pressure work environment with little concern for their health.

With the launch of a second lunar probe earlier this year, the Chang'e project, which has the ultimate goal of sending astronauts to the moon, has entered its second phase. The launch of unmanned rovers to explore the moon's surface is expected soon.

Chen was born in Suining, a small city in Sichuan province. His intelligence impressed teachers from an early age and he entered Tsinghua University, renowned for its science and technology programmes, in 1989.

He went overseas after getting his PhD at Tsinghua, doing post-doctoral research in Japan and Singapore. Fascinated by the mainland's rapidly developing space programme, he returned to accept a job offer on the Chang'e project in 2004.

Chen's father asked every young researcher attending his son's funeral to stop being a workaholic.

'Young man, take care of yourself, however busy you are,' the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Chen's brother told the newspaper that every time he called Chen he found him in the office.

More than 10,000 people posted opinions online on yesterday after news broke of Chen's death. Many criticised China Aerospace and the National Space Administration for pushing scientists and engineers to their physical and mental limits in pursuit of national glory.