Cooperation in Space Exploration Hampered by US Law

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This article was produced by the Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People's Republic of China

Could Sino-U.S. Cooperation Bring the Martian Home?

by Zheng Yongchun and Yu Fei

Beijing (XNA) Nov 03, 2015​

In the new Hollywood blockbuster, The Martian, U.S. astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars. At a critical moment, China offers to help NASA bring him back to Earth. But can these two countries cooperate to explore space in reality?

At the 66th International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem recently, NASA chief Charles Bolden urged his country to cooperate with China in space programs. Otherwise, he warned, the U.S. would be left out of new ventures to send people beyond the International Space Station.

Cooperation between China and NASA has been hampered by an exclusionary law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2011. It prohibits NASA from using its funds to host Chinese visitors at NASA facilities, citing security concerns, and bars NASA from working bilaterally with researchers who are affiliated to a Chinese government entity or enterprise.

Bolden said he thought the ban was temporary. He was echoed by Xu Dazhe, administrator of the China National Space Administration, who expressed a willingness to cooperate with the United States as soon as possible.

Aerospace cooperation between China and United States is undoubtedly necessary. As the third country to put people in space, following the United States and Russia, China has long-term programs and ambitions. As the leading power in space, the United States boasts advanced technologies and rich experience.

The need for advanced technologies and large investment in space exploration is the impetus for bilateral cooperation. The technical difficulties require various countries to give full play to their respective advantages. And multinational cooperation can help share the risks of the huge costs of space programs.

Although Bolden has emphasized many times the importance of Sino-U.S. space cooperation, it is the U.S. Congress, rather than NASA, who have the final say. Politics has raised many difficulties and awkward situations for the space scientists of both countries.

In 2013, Chinese scientists were banned from a conference on the search for extra-solar planets using the Kepler space telescope, which was held at NASA's Ames Space Research Center. The ban triggered strong protests among astronomers in China and the United States.

China has been shut out of the International Space Station, which is owned and operated by 15-nation partnership. In August, the Beijing Institute of Technology signed a contract with a U.S. private company to send the university's scientific equipment to the station to conduct experiments on the space environment's impact on genes, a move that will help explore opportunities for space cooperation between the two countries. The contract, valued at 200,000 U.S. dollars, is purely commercial and serves only scientific purposes.

Space exploration is a common human cause, which is naturally open to all. Space science, astronomy and planetary science seek to explore unknown worlds and to expand the frontiers of human knowledge, and should not involve political and economic interests. Only with cooperation and competition, can scientific research make progress. Banning cooperation cannot achieve sustainable development.

China plans to build its own space station. The experience and lessons of the International Space Station can help China achieve long-term success in this ambition. China is advancing lunar exploration, and is planning to probe Mars. China and the United States may have a wide field for cooperation - from the design of lunar and Martian missions to the development of scientific instruments.

Before the implementation of the U.S. exclusionary law, Chinese and American scientists laid a good foundation for cooperation. The two sides should strengthen contacts and exchanges, and consolidate the cooperative basis through multinational cooperation to avoid political risks. Cooperation could start from key points and expand to larger areas.

The space industries of China and the United States should reduce suspicions, negotiate rules of conduct, promote in-depth and substantial cooperation, and achieve mutual benefits. Together, the two nations could bring home the Martian.

Source: Xinhua News Agency

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