All-Star Astronauts From U.S., China Mull Prospect of Space Cooperation

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BEIJING – Did space just see the intergalactic equivalent of Nixon-era pingpong diplomacy?

Astronauts from the U.S. and China talked friendship and cooperation in a rare gathering of international planetary all-stars in Beijing - despite a U.S. law banning official cooperation with China’s ambitious space program.

Buzz Aldrin was among more than 30 prominent space explorers from the United States, including active NASA astronauts acting in their “private capacity,” who joined a large contingent of astronauts and cosmonauts from 16 countries at the first space conference hosted by China in cooperation with the Association of Space Explorers (ASE).

In addition to Aldrin, Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to walk in space and who served as commander of the International Space Station, was among the astronaut all-stars.

In exclusive interviews with NBC News, China’s first man in space, Yang Liwei, American astronaut Mario Runco Jr. and space expert Andy Turnage discussed the potential benefits of spaceflight cooperation among different countries. They expressed hope that space could be a new frontier for U.S.-China cooperation, reviving the old debate on whether the U.S. and China should be working together in and outside of orbit.

-- David Lom and Zhang Xiwen