NASA Administrator Charles Bolden left for Beijing Oct. 15 amid mixed congressional reaction to Bolden’s plans to meet with Chinese officials to discuss the potential for cooperation in human spaceflight.
Two House Republicans and a Democrat representing the Congressional U.S.-China Working Group wrote Bolden Oct. 12 to express their support for the five-day trip and request the NASA chief raise the possibility of a “joint-rescue capability in space that would enable the U.S., China and Russia to rescue each other’s space crews.”
The letter, signed by Reps. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), Charles Boustany (R-La.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), said Bolden should consider developing a common docking interface for space capsules capable of reaching the international space station, including the Chinese Shenzhou, Russian Soyuz and NASA’s Orion crew capsule, which the agency is still planning to develop for use as a crew lifeboat on the orbiting outpost.
“As NASA develops the new Crew Return Vehicle (CRV) based on the work already done on the Orion crew capsule, the U.S. should begin discussion on a common docking ring between the CRV, Shenzhou and Soyuz,” the letter states.
Other lawmakers, however, are adamantly opposed to such cooperation and made sure Bolden was aware of their displeasure.
U.S. Reps. Frank Wolf of Virginia, John Culberson of Texas and Robert Aderholt of Alabama — all Republicans serving on the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee that approves NASA’s annual budgets — joined California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in objecting to Bolden’s trip in a letter sent to the NASA chief as he left town.
“As you know, we have serious concerns about the nature and goals of China’s space program and strongly oppose any cooperation between NASA and China,” the lawmakers wrote in the Oct. 15 letter to Bolden. “In light of the short notice and scant information provided before your departure to China, we respectfully request a full briefing with you upon your return.”
Specifically, the lawmakers expect Boldin to provide the names and titles of the China National Space Administration and China Manned Space Engineering Office representatives Bolden meets with, as well as topics discussed, facilities visited and accords or follow-up meetings agreed to, the letter states.
“Most importantly, we would like personal assurance that at no time during your trip there were any discussions of cooperation on human space flight activities,” the lawmakers wrote. “In addition we want a guarantee from you that Members of Congress will be fully briefed before Chinese representatives visit the U.S. in November and before you or any other NASA representative travels to China in the future.”
Wolf previously requested a congressional security briefing in advance of the China visit. With lawmakers away on the campaign trail and Bolden tied up in a two-day management retreat with NASA personnel, the briefing did not take place. A congressional aide said Wolf spoke with Bolden by telephone Oct. 13 and reiterated his opposition to the visit.
Bolden, in an Oct. 8 letter to Wolf, outlined his itinerary and characterized the trip as “introductory.” He also said NASA would not consider any specific proposals from the Chinese for human spaceflight cooperation and that a reciprocal visit by Chinese government officials to NASA facilities in November would be guided by “the degree of transparency and openness that is displayed during my visit.”