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Bush never shot down China cooperation plans: NASA

White House in Spring: Official photo

WASHINGTON, DC (BNS): US space agency NASA made it clear Tuesday that the article appearing in the Aviation Week and Space Technology dated December 21, 2008 titled ‘Bush Administration Nixed NASA's US-China Cooperation Idea’ is “inaccurate and misleading.”

The reputed magazine had reported, “NASA tried and failed to obtain Bush administration approval of an overture to China for a cooperative U.S.-China space mission, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin tells Aviation Week & Space Technology.”

NASA said that in the first place it had never asked the White House for a cooperative mission as described in the article. The premier space agency said that in fact the White House was very supportive of a deliberate and careful establishment of relations between NASA and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) over the last two years.

After the establishment of ties, NASA commenced working group discussions with CNSA representatives on earth and space science at the beginning of this year. The discussions on main areas of future cooperation were based on the principles of mutual benefit, reciprocity and transparency, with the understanding that any proposal for specific projects would undergo careful review within the US Government.

Approval would, of course, be affected by the overall status of the US-China government-to-government relationship. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), space shuttle flights, and International Space Station were never intended by either NASA or CNSA to be considered by the NASA-CNSA working group, the agency said.

The international aspects of AMS are managed by the Department of Energy (DOE) and not by NASA. Currently, NASA is prepared to take necessary steps to fly one additional space shuttle flight to deliver AMS to the International Space Station before the scheduled retirement of the shuttle in 2010, provided additional funding is provided to the agency for the additional flight. However, NASA anticipates that the proposed flight would be reviewed by the new Obama administration, the space agency said.

The magazine had quoted NASA administrator Michael Griffin for the article. It pointed out, however, the White House believes that a higher level of cooperation is too great a reward to China for its human rights and arms-trafficking violations of international law, article said.

The Aviation Week article said the new Obama administration may resurrect the idea. The transition team of President-elect Barack Obama asked the agency for a detailed breakdown of its contacts with China and overall Asia-Pacific-region cooperative concepts in general.

“The mission concept suggested by NASA was largely devoted to space science, but also involved flight operations on the space shuttle and International Space Station (ISS). It would not have involved the launch of a Chinese astronaut, however,” the article said.

The magazine said the concept included the large Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) that was flown on a shuttle mission 10 years ago as a solo payload and is likely to be launched for installation to the ISS on what could be the space shuttle's final mission in late 2010 or early 2011.

NASA's proposal was to allow the cooperation of Chinese scientists in the mission - since the original AMS carries nearly 1,900 kg (4,188 lb) of specialised magnets made in China by Chinese aerospace companies. The modernised version of the AMS for long-term ISS installation may not carry nearly as much Chinese-built hardware as the original design, though, the Week said.

Sun Laiyan, who heads the China National Space Administration, also confirmed to Aviation Week & Space Technology last spring that some form of cooperation on the AMS had been discussed within Chinese government circles, in order to decide what to do if NASA raised it to the Chinese. Sun laughed and said it appeared his government's side had as much problem with the idea as did the US government, according to the magazine.

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