NASA ban on Chinese scientists 'inaccurate': lawmaker (Update)

October 8, 2013 by Kerry Sheridan
Moffett Field, NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California on May 3, 2013

A decision by NASA to bar Chinese scientists from an upcoming conference was deemed "inaccurate" Tuesday by the US congressman who wrote the law on which the restriction is based.

The US space agency's announcement that Chinese nationals would not be permitted to enter the Second Kepler Science Conference on exoplanets at California's Ames Research Center November 4-8 sparked a boycott by some prominent US astronomers.

"In good conscience, I cannot attend a meeting that discriminates in this way. The meeting is about planets located trillions of miles away, with no national security implications," Geoff Marcy, an astronomy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in an email to the organizers.

The restriction is based on a law passed in 2011 and signed by President Barack Obama that prevents NASA funds from being used to collaborate with China or to host Chinese visitors at US space agency facilities.

The legal language was inserted into a funding bill by Congressman Frank Wolf, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.

The law bans NASA funds from being used to work "bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company" or being "used to effectuate the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or utilized by NASA," according to a copy of the legal text sent to AFP by Wolf's office.

However, Wolf's office issued a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Tuesday seeking to correct an article on the matter that first appeared Friday in The Guardian newspaper, as well as NASA's stance.

"Unfortunately, the article is riddled with inaccuracies, as is, it appears, the guidance provided by NASA Ames staff to the attendees," said the letter.

The law "primarily restricts bilateral, not multilateral, meetings and activities with the Communist Chinese government or Chinese-owned companies," it said.

"It places no restrictions on activities involving individual Chinese nationals unless those nationals are acting as official representatives of the Chinese government."

Wolf said NASA officials may have believed that the move was needed because of extra temporary restrictions on foreign nationals after a potential security breach by a Chinese citizen at a NASA facility in Virginia earlier this year.

Bolden announced those extra measures at a hearing on March 20 before the House subcommittee that oversees funding for NASA—the same one that Wolf chairs.

"I have ordered a complete review of the access which foreign nationals from designated countries are granted at NASA facilities," Bolden said at the time.

"I have ordered a moratorium on granting any new access to NASA facilities to individuals from specific designated countries, specifically China, Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan."

In the intervening months, a formal report on the probe has been completed and should be released soon, Wolf wrote on Tuesday.

"It was my understanding that NASA's temporary restrictions had been lifted after a review of security protocols for foreign nationals at all NASA centers," his letter said.

"It is clear the NASA Ames guidance provided to conference attendees was inaccurate and not reflective of the statutory restrictions enacted by Congress," he concluded.

"NASA headquarters needs to send updated guidance to both the conference attendees and to the press to correct this misconception."

The co-chair of the upcoming Kepler conference, Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, issued a statement to attendees Tuesday that did not reference Wolf's letter.

However, it said the committee learned of the rules in the final stages of planning in late September and as a result denied the pre-registrations of six Chinese scientists.

"We find the consequences of this law deplorable and strongly object to banning our Chinese colleagues, or colleagues from any nation," said the letter from Boss.

"We are pursuing other options that will allow participation by all interested scientists either in person or remotely."

Explore further: NASA chief visits China manned space launch site

Related Stories

NASA chief visits China manned space launch site

October 26, 2010

(AP) -- The head of NASA visited China's manned space flight launch center during a trip to the country to explore possibilities for cooperation, the U.S. agency said Tuesday.

NASA boosts Webb telescope cost to $8.7 billion

August 25, 2011

NASA has boosted its cost estimate of a major telescope project to 8.7 billion dollars, even as lawmakers have threatened to slash the space agency's budget, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Recommended for you

Distant planet's interior chemistry may differ from our own

September 1, 2015

As astronomers continue finding new rocky planets around distant stars, high-pressure physicists are considering what the interiors of those planets might be like and how their chemistry could differ from that found on Earth. ...

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

Image: Hubble sees a youthful cluster

August 31, 2015

Shown here in a new image taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is the globular cluster NGC 1783. This is one of the biggest globular clusters in the Large Magellanic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.