NASA Reconsidering Chinese Scientists' Applications
October 11, 2013

NASA Reconsidering Chinese Scientists’ Applications

Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

NASA said on Thursday that it would be reconsidering the applications of Chinese scientists who were denied access to a conference when the US government opens back up, according to a report by AFP.

NASA is holding a conference at one of its facilities in northern California on November 4 through 8. Six Chinese scientists were denied access to the conference due to what organizers said was an order to temporarily prohibit visits by citizens of several nations, including China, to NASA facilities.

Congressman Frank Wolf wrote a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden earlier this week about his disappointment to learn that the Chinese scientists were denied access to the conference.

"You indicated at the time that security policies for foreign nationals for particular countries of concern would be reevaluated and new accreditations would not be approved until the security process was vetted," Wolf wrote. "However, any restriction against Chinese nationals on NASA centers is entirely an agency policy and not covered under the statutory restriction. Furthermore, it was my understanding that NASA’s temporary restrictions had been lifted after a review of security protocols for foreign nationals at all NASA centers."

The US space agency administrator said the situation was "unfortunate" and that NASA would be taking another look at these applications once the shutdown is over.

"It is unfortunate that potential Chinese participants were refused attendance at the upcoming Kepler Conference at the Ames Research Park," Bolden wrote in an email to Congressman Wolf, seen by AFP. "Mid-level managers at Ames, in performing the due diligence they believed appropriate following a period of significant concern and scrutiny from Congress about our foreign access to NASA facilities, meetings and websites, acted without consulting NASA HQ (headquarters)," he continued.

He said that when he learned of the situation, he directed that NASA reviews the requests for attendance from scientists of Chinese origin and determine whether or not to recontact them immediately when the government reopens its doors. Bolden added that any scientist who meets "the clearance requirements in place for foreign citizens will be accepted for participation."

The moratorium ordered in March this year was made, along with additional security measures, by Bolden following a potential security breach at a NASA facility in Virginia by a Chinese citizen. However, Congressman Wolf, who called the ban into question on Tuesday, said that the moratorium should have been lifted by now.

Some US astronomers have vowed to boycott the conference on the basis of the denied applications. Debra Fischer of Yale University told AFP that one of her post-doctoral students was among those denied.