WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Charles Bolden met with his Chinese counterpart and visited China’s main human spaceflight launch facility during a weeklong trip the NASA chief credited with laying a foundation for further dialogue and future cooperation between the U.S. and Chinese space programs.
“Although my visit did not include consideration of any specific proposals for future cooperation, I believe that my delegation’s visit to China increased mutual understanding on the issue of human spaceflight and space exploration, which can form the basis for further dialogue and cooperation in a manner that is consistent with the national interests of both of our countries,” Bolden said in an Oct. 25 statement.
Bolden, who was in China Oct. 16-21 as the head of a small delegation, embarked on his trip amid objections from several U.S. lawmakers, among them 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.
“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 Bolden Oct. 15 as he was leaving for China.
NASA said Bolden’s introductory talks with officials in the Chinese space agency were called for in a joint U.S.-China statement issued by the White House last fall following the official state visit to Beijing by U.S. President Barack Obama.
“The United States and China look forward to expanding discussions on space science cooperation and starting a dialogue on human space flight and space exploration, based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity and mutual benefit,” the November 2009 joint U.S.-China communique states. “Both sides welcome reciprocal visits of the NASA Administrator and the appropriate Chinese counterpart in 2010.”
In his statement, Bolden said he met with counterpart Chen Qiufa, head of the China National Space Administration, to review ongoing efforts of U.S.-Sino space and Earth science working groups established in 2007 to explore common interests. He also said the delegation conducted “a very comprehensive visit” to Chinese human spaceflight facilities, including the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at the southern edge of the Gobi Desert in China’s Kansu Province. All three of the manned Shenzhou spaceflights China has conducted since 2003 have launched from Jiuquan.
“I am pleased that NASA was able to meet its objectives for the visit, which included becoming acquainted with relevant Chinese space officials and institutions, better understanding Chinese human spaceflight programs and plans, and reaching a common understanding of the importance of transparency, reciprocity and mutual benefit as the underlying principles of any future interaction between our two nations in the area of human spaceflight.”
Bolden is the second NASA administrator to visit China. His predecessor, Mike Griffin, became the first in September 2006.