updated 4/25/2006 6:33:57 PM ET 2006-04-25T22:33:57

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has accepted an invitation to visit China to start talks on possibly cooperating with the Chinese in some areas of space.

"I think the United States always benefits from discussions and I do not see how it can hurt us," Griffin told members of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space in Washington on Tuesday.

NASA spokesman Dean Acosta said no date or agenda has been set for a China visit by Griffin. Chinese President Hu Jintao met with President Bush in Washington last week.

China launched its first manned space mission in 2003, making it the third country to send a human into orbit on its own, after Russia and the United States. A second, longer mission carrying two astronauts was completed last year. Chinese space officials have said they hope to land an unmanned probe on the moon by 2010 and want to launch a space station, causing some to view China as a space rival to the United States. NASA hopes to return astronauts to the moon by 2018.

Griffin's announcement about the invitation from China came in response to a blunt question from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.: "Where do you see us going with China — competitor or colleague?"

The administrator noted that few people 20 years ago would believe it possible for the United States and Russia to be cooperating today on the international space station.

"The United States needs good competitors and it needs good partners and sometimes they can be the same," Griffin said.

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