Monday, March 11, 2013

Chinese spies at NASA?

I've bemoaned the lack of competitive spirit between the U.S. and China at least twice.  The first time was in the context of the first female Taikonaut.
The Chinese, at least, are not interested in acting out the tragic science fiction plot of losing the ability to travel to space as a sign of a declining technological civilization. Too bad the idea of competing with the Chinese doesn't seem to inspire Americans the way competing with the Soviets 50 years ago did.
I later repeated it in connection to the death of Neal Armstrong.
I'm sure the Chinese will land on the Moon by the end of this decade, so humanity won't have lost the ability, but the U.S. is not racing to get back there before they do. Here's to hoping that the U.S. doesn't repeat the 21st Century version of the Chinese mistake of sending treasure ships to Africa, then abandoning their exploring and the open ocean technology that made it possible. It took the Chinese 500 years to recover from that misjudgment.
True, Newt Gingrich implicitly wanted to get into a space race with the Chinese, but the whole effort was derided as silly.  Now comes another Republican who is using the Chinese threat to increase funding to NASA.  Here's the report from Marshall Honorof of TechNewsDaily, as reprinted in

Congressman Suspects NASA Let in Chinese Spies
Given recent budget cuts, it's refreshing to see a politician lobbying for additional NASA funding. Astrophiles may be less encouraged, however, to learn the rationale behind Congressman Frank Wolf's plea. Wolf claims that a Chinese national with ties to a potentially dangerous organization brought sensitive NASA information back to his native country, and the representative wants to channel resources into tightening security at the space agency.

"I was recently contacted by whistleblowers who provided me with a report alerting me to a very potential situation at NASA Langley Research Center involving a Chinese national who was allegedly provided access and information he should have otherwise been restricted from receiving," said Wolf in a press conference. "It is my understanding that this Chinese national is affiliated with an institution in China that has been designated as an 'entity of concern' by other U.S. government agencies."

The national in question was able to return to China and share the information he learned with others, Wolf said. While NASA itself is not allowed to hire Chinese nationals unless they have U.S. citizenships or green cards, subcontractors that provide the agency with talent may employ whomever they wish.

In addition to security concerns, Wolf cites preserving and growing the American aerospace industry as a reason behind his irritation. "If we can't keep cutting-edge technology protected from espionage, we will never be able to commercialize it and create the jobs our country needs," he said.
I'm skeptical of Wolf's claim about a Chinese spy, but I do agree with him about the importance of space research.  Besides, I'm glad that someone in power takes China's space capabilities and ambitions seriously, although I'm not terribly happy about the possibility of his grandstanding hurting Sino-American cooperation.

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