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NASA chief invited to visit China

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Chinese space officials have invited NASA Administrator Michael Griffin to visit their country the fall, possibly as early as September.  

During an informal visit to NASA headquarters in Washington, April 3, Luo Ge, vice administrator of the China National Space Administration, met with Michael F. O’Brien, NASA associate administrator for external relations, to discuss a potential trip by Griffin to meet with Chinese space officials and visit their facilities, possibly as early as September.

“I made a joke with Mr. O’Brien that if we need to get married some day, we have to meet; otherwise we cannot get married,” Luo said in an interview here following his morning keynote speech April 5 at the 22nd National Space Symposium. Luo described the visit with O’Brien as “only a drop in” with two purposes:” to see an old friend” and to discuss Griffin visiting China.

“When I return to Beijing I will draft an itinerary for his visit,” Luo said. He added that a visit by Griffin would be an important first step toward future space cooperation between the two countries.

NASA spokesman Dean Acosta confirmed that China had extended an invitation to Griffin for a visit this fall and that the trip is under consideration, reiterating that there are no firm dates yet. 

Chinese space officials met with former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe and other agency officials in Washington in 2004 for informal discussions, but Luo said no agreements resulted from those meetings.

In his keynote speech Luo said China is open to international cooperation in all types of space activites, including human spaceflight. He also stressed in the interview following his speech that China does have its own independent systems now for sending astronauts to space, but still welcomes cooperative efforts.

A U.S. congressional delegation — Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) visited China in January. Feeny said in an interview that the most immediate area of cooperation ought to be a joint docking device that would permit Chinese spacecraft to dock with the future U.S. Crew Exploration Vehicle, the planned replacement for the shuttle, either for cooperative visits or rescue missions. Feeney also said future U.S. spacecraft should be able to dock at the space station China is planning.

Mentioning the congressional visit Luo said he too would favor a joint docking system.