LOGAN — NASA Administrator Mike Griffin’s trip to China next month also will include stops in Russia and Japan, two of the U.S. space agency’s partners in the international space station.
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 [George W.] Bush accepted that invitation, so the plan is that I will go. I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“I’m not really setting expectations,” Griffin said. ” It’s a get acquainted visit to see where we might go and in forging cooperative ties with China,” Griffin said. “To set expectations and conditions for such a visit would be foolish.”
To date, China has launched 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 October 12-16, 2005. A Shenzhou 7 mission has been scheduled for sometime in 2008 with a three-person crew that is scheduled to conduct China’s first space walk.
China also uses its Long March series of launch vehicles to place a variety of unmanned spacecraft in orbit, including weather and Earth remote sensing satellites. Space officials in China also are planning a launch in 2007 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, according to presentations Chinese space officials gave in the United States earlier this year. An unmanned lunar landing and a lunar sample return mission also figure in their long-range plans.
Griffin 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. When he worked at NASA previously in the early 1990s Griffin said he was up to his eyebrows in redesigning the international space station to accommodate Russian involvement in the program.
During that redesign, bringing the Russians on board 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.”