Chinese exclusion policy of NASA

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The US government has prohibited all researchers from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from working bilaterally with Chinese citizens affiliated with the Chinese government.[1] In April 2011, the 112th United States Congress banned NASA from using its funds to host Chinese visitors at NASA facilities.[2] In October 2013, NASA reversed the erroneous ban of Chinese scientists from a conference—which was met with backlash from US scientists—and admitted their mistake in barring individual Chinese nationals who did not represent their government in official capacity.[3]


In 2010, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) urged President Barack Obama not to allow further contact between NASA and the China National Space Administration (CNSA). In a letter addressed to the President, he wrote:

I have grave concerns about the nature and goals of China’s space program and strongly oppose any cooperation between NASA and CNSA’s human space flight programs without Congressional authorization.[4][5]

In April 2011, the 112th United States Congress banned NASA from engaging in bilateral agreements and coordination with China.[2] As stated under Public Law 112-55, SEC. 539:

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) 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 ... (c) ... shall not apply to activities which NASA or OSTP have certified pose no risk of resulting in the transfer of technology, data, or other information with national security or economic security implications to China or a Chinese-owned company.[6]

Coordination took place between NASA and China's 2019 Chang'e 4 mission, monitoring the moon lander and Yutu 2 rover on the lunar far-side using NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. NASA was able to collaborate with China by getting congressional approval for the specific interaction, and sharing data with researchers globally.[7] NASA stated:

The statutory prohibition on NASA’s use of appropriated funds for bilateral cooperation with China…does not apply to activities that NASA has certified to Congress, [which] do not pose a risk of resulting in the transfer of technology, data or other information with national security or economic security implications to China; and that do not involve knowing interactions with officials who have been determined by the U.S. to have direct involvement with violations of human rights. In accordance with the law, NASA made the appropriate certification to Congress for this activity.[7]


Dean Cheng from the Heritage Foundation claimed more interaction with the Chinese is possible in the area of sharing already collected data. Cheng claims sharing data such as Geodesy information and lunar conditions may "help create a pattern of interaction that might lower some of the barriers to information exchange."[8]

Increased cooperation between China and Europe[edit]

Since the mid-2000s, China, Russia and Europe have been working together towards manned deep space exploration as highlighted by Mars-500, a joint Chinese-European-Russian experiment that will provide ground-based studies to complement orbital research in preparation for a planned manned mission to Mars. In 2011, the German Aerospace Center collaborated with Chinese scientists in the Shenzhou program, marking the first time both countries worked together on one of China's Shenzhou missions.[9] In 2016, European Space Agency announced their collaborative Dragon programme with China will extend to 2020.[10]


Geoffrey Marcy, an astronomy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, called the ban "completely shameful and unethical".[11] Sir Martin Rees, the current Astronomer Royal of Great Britain, called the ban a "deplorable 'own goal' by the US".[11]

In 2013, a number of American scientists decided to boycott a NASA meeting, with senior academics either withdrawing individually, or pulling out their entire research groups.[11] This was in response to actions by officials at NASA Ames to prohibit Chinese nationals from attending the Kepler Science Conference II. Rep. Frank Wolf was quick to respond in a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, saying that the restriction only applied to bilateral meetings and activities between NASA and the Chinese government or Chinese-owned companies. The NASA Ames officials had mischaracterized the law as Kepler Science Conference II is a multilateral event.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sample, Ian (11 October 2013). "Nasa admits mistake over Chinese scientists' conference ban". The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b Seitz, Virginia A. (19 September 2011), "Unconstitutional Restrictions on Activities of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in Section 1340(a) of the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011", Office of Legal Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice, 35
  3. ^ Sample, Ian (11 October 2013). "Nasa admits mistake over Chinese scientists' conference ban". The Guardian. For the criticism, see Sample, Ian (5 October 2013). "US scientists boycott Nasa conference over China ban". The Guardian.
  4. ^ John Culberson. "Bolden to Beijing?". United States House of Representatives. Archived from the original on 15 September 2013. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  5. ^ "NASA chief to visit China". AFP. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  6. ^ "CONSOLIDATED AND FURTHER CONTINUING APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2012". United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  7. ^ a b "Farside Politics: The West Eyes Moon Cooperation with China". Scientific American. 7 February 2019. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  8. ^ Heritage Foundation, Prospects for U.S.-China Space Cooperation, April 2014
  9. ^ "China's 1st Space Docking Mission to Launch Today With German Experiment Aboard". Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  10. ^ "ESA's Dragon_cooperation with China extended to 2020". ESA. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  11. ^ a b c Ian Sample. "US scientists boycott Nasa conference over China ban". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  12. ^ "Wolf Disputes Effect of Law on Chinese Participation in Kepler Conference - UPDATE". Retrieved 22 November 2013.