NASA's Mike Griffin is set for his own personal space travel trek next month, flying overseas to Russia, Japan, and China.
Last April, during the visit of China's President Hu Jintao to the United States, the Chinese extended an invitation to Griffin to tour their space facilities. "President Bush accepted that invitation, so the plan is that I will go. I'm looking forward to it," he told SPACE.com.
As far as hopes and expectations of the meeting, Griffin said: "I'm not really setting expectations. It's a get acquainted visit. There are no pre-conditions on either side. There are no demands being placed. It's a get acquainted visit to see where we might go and in forging cooperative ties with China."
This will be the first visit ever by someone at the NASA Administrator government level to China to discuss space cooperation, Griffin said. "To set expectations and conditions for such a visit would be foolish...let's go and see."
China has a robust space program, not only for lofting satellites, but also to dispatch crews into space.
China is the third nation to have independent means of sending humans into Earth orbit. The former Soviet Union accomplished the feat in 1961, followed by the United States in 1962 and China in 2003.
To date, Chinese space officials have lofted two piloted Shenzhou spacecraft: Yang Liwei flew solo on a Shenzhou 5 mission on October 15, 2003 and Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng conducted their Shenzhou 6 mission on October 12-16, 2005.
A Shenzhou 7 mission is headed for a 2008 liftoff - this time with a three-person crew that includes space walking tasks, according to Chinese space program authorities.
China is also a major player in launching satellites for a wide variety of purposes, including weather-watching and Earth remote sensing.
Space officials in China are eying launch next year of their first lunar orbiter - Chang'e-I.
One of Chang'e-I's tasks is to obtain three-dimensional images of the lunar surface. The orbiter is part of a three-step robotic lunar program, note China space officials. Following the Chang'e-I orbiter mission, on tap in later years is landing an unmanned vehicle on the Moon and collecting samples of lunar soil with an unmanned vehicle.
Russia, Japan partners
Griffin said that he's keen on having himself or another NASA high official on hand in Russia for any U.S. crewmember launch or landing. He said he's looking forward to an opportunity to go to Moscow, go to the Baikonour cosmodrome, and perhaps tour things he hasn't seen before, as well as get to know more people.
In his pre-NASA Administrator work at the space agency, Griffin said he was up to his eyebrows in redesigning the International Space Station to embrace Russian involvement in the endeavor.
During that redesign, bringing the Russians onboard the project caused some hard feelings, Griffin recalled. "But I think today the value of having added the Russians is very clear. With loss of shuttle Columbia, the space station would have been -- I won't say dead in the water, but dead in space -- without our Russian partners," he said.
As for Japan, Griffin said he's only spent a couple of days in Japan since becoming NASA's top executive. "I expect to see a little bit of their space establishment. Japan is one of our very closest allies in the world and one of our closest partners on the International Space Station...and in our space program generally. I want to take a couple days and visit with them."