For­mer chief of NASA urges lift­ing China ban

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHAO HUANXIN and DONG LESHUO in Wash­ing­ton

There is both op­ti­mism and a need for the United States to re­sume co­op­er­a­tion with China in space ex­plo­ration, a vet­eran as­tro­naut and for­mer NASA ad­min­is­tra­tor said days after the Chi­nese space­craft Chang’e 4 made a his­toric soft-land­ing on the far side of the moon on Jan 2.

“China should feel very proud of hav­ing ac­com­plished this. Any­time you can do some­thing that has not been done be­fore, it’s a rea­son for ex­cite­ment and cel­e­bra­tion,” said Charles F. Bolden, chief of the space agency from July 2009 to Jan­uary 2017.

Con­gres­sional pro­hi­bi­tions on space co­op­er­a­tion with China — as stip­u­lated by the 2011 Wolf Amend­ment to NASA ap­pro­pri­a­tions bills — is a “sig­nif­i­cant le­gal con­straint” and “hin­drance” that should be re­laxed or re­versed, Bolden said.

“I’m in­cred­i­bly op­ti­mistic. I just think cooler heads will pre­vail,” Bolden said in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view.

Bolden was only the sec­ond as­tro­naut in NASA’s his­tory to hold the po­si­tion of ad­min­is­tra­tor.

Dur­ing his ca­reer as a NASA as­tro­naut, he flew four space shut­tle mis­sions, in­clud­ing one that de­ployed the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope.

“If this ad­min­is­tra­tion went to the Con­gress and said, ‘Look, we want to re­lax the stip­u­la­tions on the Wolf Amend­ment’ or ‘We want to elim­i­nate the Wolf Amend­ment’, it could get passed in a heart­beat, and that would re­move the re­stric­tion and we’d be able to col­lab­o­rate in hu­man space­flight,” he said.

Asked why he had such con­fi­dence, Bolden said, “Who thought Nixon would ever go to China?” re­fer­ring to US Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon’s 1972 his­toric visit.

Bolden also gave an ex­am­ple of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Rus­sia and the US, which some peo­ple think are “like two dif­fer­ent worlds”.

“There is no bet­ter part­ner­ship with Rus­sia than NASA and Roscos­mos, be­cause we have a com­mon mis­sion,” he said. Roscos­mos is the Rus­sian state cor­po­ra­tion in charge of space ac­tiv­i­ties.

How­ever, early last month, US Rep­re­sen­ta­tive John Cul­ber­son, who then chaired the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee, which over­sees NASA and other sci­ence agen­cies, said he was “hope­ful” Con­gress would con­tinue to pro­hibit NASA from en­gag­ing in bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion with China un­less cer­tain con­di­tions are met, space­pol­i­cy­on­line.com re­ported on Dec 7.

Cul­ber­son, a Repub­li­can from Texas, lost his re-elec­tion race. After Democrats took con­trol of the House on Jan 3, the sub­com­mit­tee chair­man­ship changed par­ties.

Bolden said that many in­ter­na­tional part­ners are work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively with the Chi­nese space agency. For ex­am­ple, Saman­tha Cristo­fore­tti of the Euro­pean Space Agency, who had a highly suc­cess­ful mis­sion on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, and other Euro­pean as­tro­nauts are train­ing with Chi­nese as­tro­nauts. “My fear is that the US may be left out,” he said.

There have been signs of co­op­er­a­tion and good­will be­tween the space au­thor­i­ties of the two coun­tries in re­cent months. Im­me­di­ately after Chang’e 4 made the first soft-land­ing on the far side of the moon, NASA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jim Bri­den­s­tine sent the team a mes­sage of con­grat­u­la­tions.

Bri­den­s­tine met his Chi­nese coun­ter­part, Zhang Ke­jian, chief of the China Na­tional Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion, on the side­lines of the In­ter­na­tional Astro­nau­ti­cal Con­gress in Bre­men, Ger­many, in Oc­to­ber.

“I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant for the NASA ad­min­is­tra­tor to speak for the United States, in reach­ing out to other na­tions of the world to say, you know, we are with you, we look at this (Chang’e 4 land­ing) as an achieve­ment of hu­man­ity. And we re­ally want to re­main part­ners in this ef­fort,” Bolden said.

“Be­cause if we de­cide we’re go­ing to frac­ture and break it up, (and) ev­ery­body tries to do what’s only good for me, none of us are go­ing to suc­ceed,” he said.

Bolden, who has met with most of the Chi­nese as­tro­nauts who have flown to space, said when he talked to his col­leagues in the Chi­nese space agency and ev­ery­where else, they still would love to be able to work co­op­er­a­tively with the US in hu­man space­flight. “Both na­tions have the fi­nan­cial where­withal and the tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise to fur­ther ad­vance this quest for hu­man­ity to go deeper and deeper into space,” he said.

In ad­di­tion to re­mov­ing le­gal con­straints, an­other re­quire­ment for US-China space co­op­er­a­tion is for the ad­min­is­tra­tion of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to rein­vig­o­rate the US-China space di­a­logue, Bolden said.

For China, one of their first steps must be rec­i­proc­ity and trans­parency, Bolden said. The US had en­gaged in co­op­er­a­tion with China in Earth sci­ence, aero­nau­tic re­search and air traf­fic man­age­ment be­fore and dur­ing his ten­ure as NASA chief.

The US also signed an agree­ment with the Chi­nese Academy of En­gi­neer­ing in 2016 to help smooth the flow of traf­fic through ma­jor Chi­nese air­ports, ac­cord­ing to Bolden.

“My firm be­lief is that we should in­te­grate China into the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion pro­gram. It doesn’t have a lot of time left,” Bolden said, re­fer­ring to the planned re­tire­ment of the ISS in a few years. That would help China “avoid some of the mis­takes that were made with build­ing the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion”, he said.

China is de­vel­op­ing its own space sta­tion, named Tian­gong or Heav­enly Palace, which of­fi­cials said is ex­pected to be fully op­er­a­tional around 2022. It’s likely to be­come the world’s only space sta­tion if the US-led In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion is re­tired as planned.

Bolden said he ex­pected Tian­gong to be­come a “nice fol­low-on” to the ISS, where na­tions of the world can go to do re­search, “in ad­di­tion to be­ing on some of the com­mer­cial plat­forms that NASA is re­ally try­ing to push, to fa­cil­i­tate the de­vel­op­ment of, to­day”.

Charles Bolden

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