U.S. Lawmaker Balks at NASA Chief's China Visit
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden speaks during a press conference, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010, at the National Press Club in Washington, where the it was announced that NASA has awarded $50 million through funded agreements to further the commercial sector's capability to support transport of crew to and from low Earth orbit.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON ? NASA chief Charles Bolden's plan to visit China this month for high-level talks about possible cooperation on human spaceflight has prompted a senior Republican appropriator to request a security briefing on the trip before it happens.

In an Oct. 5 letter to the NASA chief, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said he strongly opposes any partnership with Beijing that involves human spaceflight, including efforts to involve China in the international space station.

"I need not remind you that no such planning or coordination has been approved by the Congress," wrote Wolf, the ranking member on the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee that oversees NASA spending. "In fact, several recent NASA authorization bills have explicitly sought to place strict limitations on coordination with China."

Wolf, an outspoken China critic, is likely to return to the chairmanship of the NASA appropriations subcommittee next year if Democrats lose control of the House in upcoming November elections.

In his letter to Bolden, Wolf cited a Sept. 27 Aviation Week and Space Technology report that revealed details of the trip, currently planned for Oct. 16-21, and an Oct. 1 NASA white paper the lawmaker said downplays the trip's significance.

"It should go without saying that NASA has no business cooperating with the Chinese regime on human spaceflight," Wolf wrote. "China is taking an increasingly aggressive posture globally, and their interests rarely intersect with ours. The U.S. intelligence community notes that China's attempts to spy on U.S. agencies are the most aggressive of all foreign intelligence organizations. China's aerospace industry for decades has provided missile technologies and equipment to rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea."

According to the Oct. 1 white paper, Bolden's visit will involve "initial discussions with the China Manned Space Engineering Office" and site visits to human spaceflight facilities.

"This will be introductory and will not include consideration of specific proposals for human space flight cooperation," the white paper states, adding that Chinese government officials are expected to pay a visit to NASA facilities in November.

The United States and China agreed to the reciprocal visits last November during President Barack Obama's visit to Beijing.

Bolden would not be the first NASA administrator to visit China. His predecessor, Mike Griffin, led a NASA delegation there in 2006 to meet with Chinese space officials.

The NASA white paper says potential engagement with China in the area of human spaceflight would be conditioned on the transparency of the communist country's space activities. The white paper also says bilateral cooperation is consistent with new guidance contained in the U.S. national space policy issued by the White House in June.

The policy called for NASA to "expand international cooperation on mutually beneficial space activities to: broaden and extend the benefits of space; further the peaceful use of space; and enhance collection and partnership in sharing of space-derived information."

In his letter, Wolf reminded Bolden of written testimony provided to the subcommittee earlier this year in which the NASA administrator assured lawmakers the agency had not had "any human spaceflight-related discussions" with China.

Wolf called for a briefing to the Congress on the nature of the planned discussions with Chinese officials and asked that Bolden respond in writing to clarify the scope of the "introductory" discussions scheduled to take place.

"Specifically, please provide a summary of information about the U.S. human spaceflight program that will be provided to the Chinese government, including non-public technical, operational or strategic information," Wolf wrote. "I would appreciate a detailed list of the NASA facilities that Chinese officials will be invited to visit, including a summary of the security precautions that will be put in place to protect sensitive spaceflight information."

This article was provided by Space News, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.