NASA administrator Mike Griffin is in China right now meeting with his counterparts there and getting tours of various facilities. (Apparently not on the list, surprisingly, is the Chinese manned launch center in Jiuquan; a NASA spokesperson told AFP simply that those plans “did not work out”.) As has been the case since the plans for the trip were finalized, NASA has been maintaining low expectations for the trip, saying it was nothing more than “an introductory kind of meeting”.
The Chinese news agency Xinhua reports that Chinese officials have made a four-point proposal for US-China space cooperation, but those points are pretty vague: strengthen communications, help annual meetings, “jointly explore fields” of potential future cooperation, and “eliminate obstacles and boost mutual trust”. The report didn’t give any indication of what response NASA had to the proposal.
However, should NASA even be discussing cooperation with China? That’s the thesis of an op-ed in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle by Mark Whittington, who believes that military, foreign policy, and human rights issues should make the US wary of any partnership with China in space. And Whittington brings up the R-word: race:
Does that policy mean a space race between China and the United States? Probably. But that is not something that should be feared, but rather welcomed. Competition breeds progress and innovation.
As I’ve mentioned a number of times before, there’s little evidence of a space race brewing between the US and China (despite occasional hyperbolic claims to the contrary), nor would a race necessarily be as beneficial as Whittington claims. After all, some might argue that we’re still recovering from the first space race with the Soviet Union.