NASA Administrator Returns from Beijing Where He Welcomed China to the Ranks of "Spacefaring Nations"

September 29, 2006

Washington, 28 Sep 2006

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin returned to the United States September 28 after a landmark visit to China â€" the first time a NASA administrator has visited that country â€" to explore and expand space-program cooperation.

Griffin made the trip at the invitation of Laiyan Sun, administrator of the China National Space Administration, after discussions between Chinese President Hu Jintao and U.S. President Bush during the U.S.-China summit in April.

"One of the points I tried to annunciate over and over again to our meetings with various groups of people,†Griffin said in a September 28 statement, “was to welcome China to the rank of spacefaring nations by virtue of their ability to put people into orbit entirely on their own resources. That is a milestone accomplishment and one to be proud of.â€

Accompanying Griffin were Associate Administrator for Space Operations William Gerstenmaier, Assistant Administrator for External Relations Michael O'Brien and NASA astronaut Shannon Lucid.

Griffin spent his final full day in China in Shanghai, where he had lunch with the city's mayor. He also toured the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences to review Chinese satellite payload development capabilities. The institute is involved in the development of remote sensing capabilities, Shenzhou spacecraft payloads, infrared detectors and a laser altimeter.

“This trip really accomplished what it was supposed to do,†Gerstenmaier said, “which was a kind of get-acquainted overview of the China space activity. Next steps will bring in a little more lower level detail in and more specifics about where we're going."


On September 25, his second full day in China, Griffin spoke to some of the country's brightest future researchers during a speech to graduate students at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Astronaut Shannon Lucid accompanied him.

Griffin talked about the evolution of the U.S. space program, from one born of competition to one built on cooperation. "The International Space Station set a pattern for cooperative programs to follow," he said. "I believe someday China will be part of that."

Lucid, who performed scientific research on the space shuttle and on the Russian space station Mir, said the students in attendance might someday have a chance to design experiments for China's own human space flight program and offered tips for designing research programs in space.

On the same day, Griffin and his delegation met with China's Minister of Science and Technology Xu Guanhua and toured the National Satellite Meteorological Center.

Griffin told a gathering of news media later in the day that he enjoyed learning about the more "geeky," or technical, aspects of the Chinese space program.

"We have seen some very nice things," he said. "We saw a very nice algorithm by which Chinese weather satellite developers correct for the apparent motion of the Earth as a result of minor shifts in the orbit of geostationary spacecraft."

He also talked to reporters about the value of international cooperation in space.

"The problems of space flight are difficult, right at the edge of what's technically possible," he said. "One of the things we derive from international cooperative activities is seeing how different nations and different cultures solve these problems. We learn things; they learn things."

Griffin, an engineer with 35 years of aerospace experience, also got a firsthand look at some key technical facilities. He visited a major development and production facility for the Chinese space program, the Chinese Academy of Space Technology, and a payload development center, the Center for Space Science and Applied Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences..

U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt Jr., joined Griffin on his first day of tours in China. Randt, the longest-serving U.S. ambassador to China, is also an honorary member of the NASA family. His father, Clark Randt Sr.., was NASA's first director of life sciences, serving from 1959 to 1961.


During a September 25 press conference in Beijing, Griffin said NASA and the China National Space Administration plan to hold dialogues at least once a year. The two space agencies, he added, also might set up working groups in areas such as earth science, climate research, data sharing on various scientific missions, and robotic exploration.

NASA has no plans to work with China on International Space Station construction, Griffin said, because "the partnerships [with Russia] that led to the development of the ISS are well established."

China and the United States might cooperate on manned space flight some day, but such projects are lower priorities than the International Space Station, Griffin said.

The United States is interested in working more closely with China, he added, but the United States is greatly concerned about control over missile technology and nonproliferation.

NASA, Griffin said, is “still unable to cooperate with the military-based space program, but we have had a very enjoyable visit with the civilian side of China’s space efforts.â€

U.S. Ambassador Randt, who participated in the press conference, responded to a question regarding visas for Chinese scientists who want to attend conferences in the United States. He said applicants should allot at least 25 days to get a visa due to enhanced security requirements for people in certain fields. He said 99 percent of applicants receive visas.

“This year,†Randt said, “we will issue a record number of visas to Chinese citizens to visit the U.S. Over 300,000 will visit the United States this year, including, we hope, some scientists and engineers.â€

A transcript (PDF, 25 pages) of the NASA press conference on the China trip is available on the NASA Web site, as is the full text of a related press release.

US Department of State
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