SPACE ELITES: Chinese female astronaut Liu Yang (second right) talks with other participants before the opening ceremony of the 27th Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers in Beijing on September 10 (GONG LEI)
Astronauts from China and the United States met in Beijing from September 10 to 15 to discuss international planetary friendship and cooperation along with space travelers from 16 other countries. Among the topics at hand were plans for China's space station, ready to launch in 2022, and a space lab that will enter orbit by 2016.
The Association of Space Explorers (ASE) along with China's Manned Space Agency gathered 93 attendees from 18 countries to Beijing, including Russian Alexey Leonov, the first person to walk in space, American moon walker Buzz Aldrin, and the first female astronaut, Russian Valentina Tereshkova.
"This is our first ASE congress in China and our fourth in Asia," said Andrew Turnage, Executive Director of ASE-USA. "We have been working with China for some years now on hosting a congress, and we are excited to have the opportunity to visit China and learn more about their space program and plans for exploration, in low-Earth orbit and beyond."
Did you know there is a U.S. law banning official cooperation with China on its space program? It's a relic that would be more appropriate during the Cold War than in these days of globalized economies. Space exploration is expensive, and there doesn't seem to be anything up there that would make the first explorers on the scene fabulously wealthy. Haven't we evolved past sticking our flag on unclaimed rocks and declaring them the property of whatever country funded the expedition?
However, this law banning China-U.S. space cooperation was enacted in 2011. Hawkish politicians who see China as an inevitable opponent both economically and militarily promoted it. These leaders cannot conceive of a peaceful future where power does not come from wishing nuclear extinction on any country large enough to pose a threat.
The United States must focus on two questions. First, would China-U.S. outer space cooperation be beneficial to the national security interests of the United States? Second, what are the risks the United States takes in sharing technology, intellectual property, scientific methodologies and funding?
It seems the United States would have much to gain and little to lose from partnering with other countries on space exploration. We have already benefited from partnering with our space race competitor Russia. Why would partnering with China be any different? Let's leave the militarization of space stranded on Earth, and make space exploration a purely scientific venture.
Even during the Cold War, the United States cooperated with the Soviet Union on some aspects of space exploration. Scott Pace, who heads the Space Policy Institute and is a professor of international affairs at George Washington University, told Voice of America, said, "It was in very specific scientific areas: Earth science, solar physics, some biometrical data. And I think similar levels of cooperation can certainly occur with China today, and probably should."
Already there are signs that the United States is warming to the idea of ending the ban on joint space ventures.
"China is an obvious addition to the international [human spaceflight] partnership, both for the ISS [International Space Station] program and beyond," Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut, said during a hearing of the Senate Science and Space Subcommittee earlier this year. "China is in a position to provide hardware and capability in-kind."
With the benefits to humanity that space exploration presents, cooperation on scientific research outweighs the risk to national security. Perhaps if we all work together, one country will not gain advantage over another, and will have less incentive to translate discoveries into military might.
Let's do things differently this time. Let's leave all the bickering back on terra firma and make space a no-border zone. Once you leave the stratosphere, you become a citizen of Earth—leave your passport behind.
The author is a contributing writer to Beijing Review, living in New York City
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