Watching the Space Shuttle Endeavour launch this morning on the second last flight of the Shuttle Program was somewhat bittersweet. The shuttle has had an amazing 30 year run but its time has come and gone. Yet thanks to the Obama Administration decision to cancel the Constellation Program the US is left paying the Russians to take us to the International Space Station, a complex the US paid more than 80 percent of the cost. Recently the White House science advisor John Holdren suggested that we may invite China to join in the ISS. Well not so fast, Rep Frank Wolf (R-VA) chairman of the house appropriations sub-committee which oversees NASA’s budget see’s the Chinese as rivals, not partners. Rep Wolf recently inserted a clause in the budget which to prevent NASA or OSTP from using federal funds “to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company”.
So why not cooperate with china as we have with other nations? First we need to look at the history of such cooperation on space where, like the ISS the cooperation often takes the form of US funding of other nations projects. However China has built its entire space program on acquired technology. In the 1990’s they reached agreement with the cash strapped Russians to acquire manned spaceflight technology based on the tried and tested Soyuz spacecraft. While they Chinese claimed to have only used that as the basis for their own development, apparently they forgot to change the Russian text on some of the control panels used in their first manned space flight when the pictures were initially released. They did show competent use of Photoshop technology when they revised subsequent releases to show only Chinese.
The US government investment in space flight has been a recognition not only of the economic impact and the need for national leadership in such new technologies and exploration. Space has been seen by strategic planners for decades as the high ground in any future conflict. It has been seen as imperative that the US maintain its leadership in this area.
To now bring China into the ISS or any future space program would simply to invite the theft of more strategic technology. Better yet why take American technology when the Obama administration is prepared to give it away? True to course for the Obama Administration they have taken the view that Rep. Wolf’s amendment does not apply to scientific interactions, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden visited China last October and virtually opened the door to the Chinese with no regard to national security or the Wolf Amendment. It is imperative that congress stop all contact between NASA and the Chinese until The Obama administration is retired January 20, 2013. Given administrator Bolden’s performance on China, and following congressional direction on Constellation and the Heavy launch Vehicle, it may be time to consider his removal from office.