Taylor Gun-Jin Wang is a Chinese-born American scientist, astronaut and engineering professor who became the first person of Chinese descent in space. He was a UCLA graduate and scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in La Cañada Flintridge, before becoming an astronaut.
Wang was born in Shanghai, China, in 1940. He moved with his family to Taiwan in 1952 and later lived in Hong Kong. In 1963, he moved to the U.S. to study physics at UCLA. There, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1967 and master’s degree in 1968. In 1971, he was awarded a doctorate in physics by UCLA.
Wang joined JPL in 1972, as a senior scientist. He became a U.S. citizenship in 1975.
In 1976, Wang published a scientific paper, regarding zero gravity physics, that brought him to the attention of NASA. In 1983, he was selected to travel into space as a payload specialist for the Spacelab-3 mission.
On April 29, 1985, Wang was launched into space with the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger from Kennedy Space Center, Florida. He was the first person of Chinese descent to go into space, drawing keen interest from the Chinese American community. This was the first operational Spacelab mission and remained in space for eight days. Challenger and its crew returned to earth at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Wang circled the earth 110 times, traveled more than 2.9 million miles, and logged more than 168 hours in space.
In 1988, Wang left JPL to teach at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. There, he became Centennial Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Emeritus and Centennial Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Emeritus.