China Astronaut Calls for US Cooperation
Reuters Science Report
BEIJING (Reuters) – China's most renowned astronaut said on Friday 29 April that his country and the United States should make good on their presidents' promises to cooperate in space.
"I think the two countries should proactively implement the intent expressed in the joint communique to eliminate obstacles and promote exchange and cooperation in our space programs," Yang Liwei, now the vice director of the country's Manned Space Engineering Office, said.
Efforts at US-China cooperation in space have failed in the past decade, stymied by economic, diplomatic and security tensions, despite a 2009 attempt by President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, to launch collaboration.
Obama and Hu, in a statement in November 2009, called for "the initiation of a joint dialogue on human spaceflight and space exploration, based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity and mutual benefit."
US fears over national defense and inadvertent technology transfer have proven to be major roadblocks, particularly after Beijing carried out an anti-satellite test in January 2007, using a ground-based missile to destroy one of its inactive weather satellites.
Yang, considered a hero of China's ambitious space program and the first from his country to enter space, made the statement during a carefully controlled media visit to China's astronaut training facility in the western suburbs of Beijing.
There, journalists were ushered through an echoing hall housing three new space flight training simulators, none in use by China's 24 astronauts.
But China is pushing forward without the United States, its funding in the face of NASA scale-backs and its cooperative efforts with Russia and other countries possibly constituting the next best hope for the future of space exploration.
Yang noted potential joint space research programs with France and efforts to launch the Mars probe Firefly 1 with Russia "in the near future."
He said the Chinese government has spent more than 20 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) in the first phase of its space planning, but has no specific target to put a man on the moon. Chinese scientists have talked about the possibility after 2020.
Over 13 years, starting in August 1996, China ran up 75 consecutive successful Long March rocket launches after overcoming technical glitches with the help of US companies.
In 2003, it became the third country, after the United States and Russia, to send a man, Yang, into space aboard its own rocket.
China launched its first moon orbiter, the Chang'e-1, in October 2007, accompanied by a blaze of patriotic propaganda celebrating the country's technological prowess. Yang said China's space program was intended to benefit humanity and promote scientific and cultural developments.
"For myself, I hope to one day set foot on the moon, like the beautiful Chinese legend of Chang'e," Yang said, referencing the namesake of China's moon orbiter, a mythical Chinese goddess who was banished to Earth and later flew to the moon only to regret abandoning her husband.
Yang then gave more down-to-earth reasoning for China's space ambitions.
"Of course, it also has an important value for the nation's image and prestige," he said.
(Editing by Alex Richardson)