In a comment that epitomised the late Qian Xuesen's value to both China and the United States, former US secretary of the navy Dan Kimball apparently opposed the Chinese scientist's return to his homeland, fearing he might know too much about missile technology. 'I'd rather shoot him dead than let him leave America. Wherever he goes, he equals five divisions,' Kimball reportedly said. The communist scare of the 1950s, led by US senator Joseph McCarthy, was responsible for Qian's return to China in 1955. On the mainland, it was hailed as a patriotic act. Kimball lamented that it was 'the stupidest thing' the United States ever did. Qian, also known as Tsien Hsueshen, died on Saturday at the age of 98 in Beijing. He is known on the mainland as the father of China's space and missile programmes. He steered the country into launching intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Silkworm anti-ship missiles, weather and reconnaissance satellites as well as the manned space programme. Qian was purged by the US for an alleged link to the Communist Party in the 1950s and eventually allowed to return to China after a tricky diplomatic trade-off. Kimball was quoted by Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine as saying: 'He was no more a communist than I was, and we forced him to go.' Kimball's fears were substantiated by China's launch of the manned Shenzhou V space mission in October 2003, of which Qian helped lay the foundations, catapulting China into the same league as the United States and Russia. Qian was named as the Person of the Year by Aviation Week, a semi-official publication of the Pentagon, last year. He went to the United States in 1935 on a government fellowship and trained as an aeronautical engineer at the California and Massachusetts institutes of technology as a prot?g? of eminent Caltech professor Theodore von Karman, who recognised him as an outstanding mathematician and 'undisputed genius'. Qian was the founding director of the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Jet Propulsion Centre at Caltech, contributing to the development of 'jet-assisted take-off' technology that the military began using in the 1940s. However, Qian's research was interrupted in 1950 when the FBI accused him of being a member of a subversive organisation harbouring communist sympathies. He was arrested before being deported in 1955 in an apparent trade for 11 American airmen captured during the Korean war. Probably to highlight Qian's value to both China and the United States, the Chinese media widely reported Kimball's opposition to letting Qian go as he feared the scientist might know too much. Qian, who was born in December 1911, never returned to the United States. After returning to China, he set up the Institute of Mechanics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where he trained engineers with the aeronautical expertise he acquired in the US. He also played a key role in China's first nuclear test in 1964. Qian joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1958 and led a low-profile life after 1991. Top space scientist Zhu Yilin , who had worked under Qian since 1963, said his mentor had been particularly good at lateral thinking around a core vision. While the official media has been lauding Qian's contributions to the nation's scientific feats and patriotism, some unflattering aspects of Qian's life were largely overlooked. He gave bad scientific advice on agricultural yields that may have encouraged chairman Mao Zedong's disastrous 1958-61 Great Leap Forward economic policy, which led to as many as 30 million deaths from starvation. He was a staunch supporter of research into supernatural abilities on the mainland in the 1980s, which some said gave rise to the Falun Gong, which was dismissed by mainland authorities as an evil cult. The scientist sided with authorities in the anti-rightist movement against academics in the 1950s and the crackdown on the student democracy movement in June 1989. A high-profile funeral is expected, which will probably be attended by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.