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Updated 4:59 PM EDT, Fri, Oct 11, 2019

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NASA’s Bolden Makes Brave but Pointless Appeal for U.S.-China Space Cooperation

A brave man

(Photo : NASA) NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Jr. as a NASA astronaut]

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's  suggestion the United States should resume cooperation with China in space is bound to encounter fierce opposition in Congress, especially from the Republican Party that sees China as the "New Evil Empire."

Bolden, an African-American and one of only 14 African-American astronauts to reach outer space, said Congress should revise U.S. laws, specifically U.S. Public Law 112-55, Sec. 539 that bans any cooperative effort among the space programs of both the U.S. and China.

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"We were in an incredible Cold War with the Soviets at the time we flew Apollo-Soyuz. It was because leaders in both nations felt it was time," said Bolden.

"That represented a great use of soft power, if you will. Look where we are today. I think we will get there (with China). And I think it is necessary."

Bolden, a retired Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps, suggested initial steps to unfreeze the thaw such as "working on weather satellite data sharing and things like that. Things that will make critics on China on Capitol Hill a little bit more relaxed about the idea of cooperation."

The 112th United States Congress in November 2011 banned NASA from engaging in bilateral agreements and coordination with China, a ban enforced under Public Law 112-55, Sec. 539. The specific provision states:

"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 or any Chinese-owned company unless such activities are specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of enactment of this Act.

"The limitation in subsection (a) shall also apply to any funds used to effectuate the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or utilized by NASA.

"The limitations described in subsections (a) and (b) 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."

Public Law 112-55 is otherwise known as the ''Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012."

The probability of the U.S. Congress enacting a new law to overturn Public Law 112-55, Sec. 539 is remote considering China's perceived hostility towards the U.S. in the South China Sea, the beefing-up of its military and the absence of lawmakers willing to go to bat for China.

The right wing Republican Party is patently hostile towards China and its members control the committee in the House of Representatives responsible for NASA appropriations. The man who chairs the House of Representatives appropriations subpanel that oversees NASA, John Culberson (R-TX), is a space geek who in 2010 urged President Barack Obama not to allow further contact between NASA and the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

"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," he said in a letter to Obama.

Bolden said he doesn't not expect the ban to be lifted during his tenure that ends with that of Obama's.

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