Houston, We Have A Problem: NASA Ban On Chinese Scientists Lifted For U.S. Space Conference

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After two weeks of being out of commission due to the government shutdown, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration has announced it will reverse its previous decision to ban six Chinese scientists from attending a space conference.

According to the Chinese state-controlled newspaper China Daily, which called the initial decision an exhibition of “Cold War mentality,” the reversal came after several American and European scientists threatened to stage a boycott of the conference (which will take place in California in early November) if their Chinese counterparts were barred from participating.

“NASA’s discriminatory practice has led to many U.S. and European scientists boycotting the conference,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said during a press conference. “[The] conference itself should not be politicized.”

Hua was referring to legislation introduced by Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., that essentially bans NASA funds from being used in working “bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company” or “used to effectuate the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or utilized by NASA,” Agence France-Presse reported.

Wolf’s office is claiming that a “reporting error” was made when the ban was placed, saying that the law does not actually include prohibitions on individual Chinese citizens. In clarification, Wolf’s office sent a memo to NASA saying “it places no restrictions on activities involving individual Chinese nationals unless those nationals are acting as official representatives of the Chinese government.”

Now, China’s official Xinhua news agency has reported that the NASA committee has written to the six Chinese scientists re-inviting them to the conference. “We have since been able to clarify the intent of the referenced legislation and are pleased to inform you that this decision has been reversed and your paperwork is being reviewed for clearance,” the letter reportedly said. “We hope you will be able to join us.”

Though China still trails behind Russia and the U.S. in the global space race, its program is expanding quickly. Celebrating 10 years of manned spaceflight this year, the China National Space Administration announced plans to launch a moon orbiter by the end of the year, and the establishment of a space station by 2023. 

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