Drawing from recent theoretical insights on the circulation of knowledge, this article, grounded in real-world examples, illustrates the importance of ‘the site’ as an analytical heuristic for revealing processes, movements and connections illegible within either nation-centred histories or comparative national studies. By investigating place instead of project, the study reframes the birth of modern rocket developments in both China and India as fundamentally intertwined within common global networks of science. I investigate four seemingly disconnected sites in the US, India, China and Ukraine, each separated by politics but connected and embedded in conduits that enabled the flow of expertise during (and in some cases despite) the Cold War. By doing so, it is possible to reconstruct an exemplar of a kind of global history of science, some of which takes place in China, some in India, and some elsewhere, but all of it connected. There are no discrete beginnings or endings here, merely points of intervention to take stock of processes in action. Each site produces objects and knowledge that contribute to our understanding of the other sites, furthering the overall narrative on Chinese and Indian efforts to formalize a ‘national’ space programme. The focus on these four sites reveals a global network of science in motion, linked by the common goals of building powerful rockets to explore space.