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NASA chief optimistic on joint space efforts

By Chen Weihua in Washington | China Daily USA | Updated: 2015-10-30 11:25

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said he is always optimistic on space cooperation between the United States and China.

"It's always the big thing on the table, but be patient, and become the eternal optimist as I am. It's going to work out," Bolden told a conference on Wednesday at the Center for American Progress (CAP), referring to a congressional ban on funding that NASA had used to collaborate with China. The bill was introduced in 2011 by Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia who retired in January.

Bolden said it would be "awesome" for NASA to be working with the Chinese today, because the agreement between then-Chinese president Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama in 2009 was for collaboration in human space flight.

During a meeting of the International Astronautical Congress in Israel early this month, Bolden, a former astronaut, said he believed the ban on NASA's partnership with China wouldn't last.

"The reason I think that where we are today is temporary is because of a practical statement that we will find ourselves on the outside looking in, because everybody ... who has any hope of a human space flight program ... will go to whoever will fly their people," Reuters quoted Bolden as saying at the meeting.

In the past few years, there has been strong opposition to the congressional legislation banning space cooperation between China and the US, with some US scientists threatening to boycott conferences that bar Chinese scientists.

Noting on Wednesday that no one can say what will happen in Congress, Bolden pointed to the audience and the Harvard students he met on Tuesday, saying they someday could be on the House Appropriations Committee and make the right decisions.

"Again, I said I am an optimist, and I think things will work out. But it's going to take a generational change," he said.

"The good thing is the present generation, the space generation, is fired up to make things happen," said Bolden, adding that it is the generation that was cheering at theaters during the movie The Martian when NASA and the Chinese space agency collaborated to save the day.

Bolden, who visited China last December, said that the two countries already are working together, with the Congress' knowledge, in areas of earth science, such as in the study of the earth crustal deformation movement and glacial characterization of the Himalayas.

Chinese and NASA teams were working together in Nepal when the earthquake struck the past summer. They sprung into action by bringing the data from space to help the disaster relief, according to Bolden. "So we are working cooperatively with our Chinese counterparts right now," he said.

Bolden's talk on Wednesday centered on the journey to Mars.

Rudy deLeon, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said CAP will soon produce a paper on the Mars mission. "It will include China," he said.

He said that unlike moon missions, which involve one country, the mission to Mars will truly be an international effort.

DeLeon also said it will take a step-by-step process to overcome opposition in the Congress, citing the fact that even the international space station has survived the recent tension among Europe, Russia and the US. "So I think working in space together opens up new doors," he said.

China and the US agreed in June in their annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue to establish regular government-to-government consultations on civil space cooperation. The first China-US Civil Space Cooperation Dialogue, as part of the consensus of the S&ED, was held in Beijing in September.

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