US space shuttle Endeavor blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday, on its 25th and final space mission, drawing great attention from media worldwide.
The event has caught the eyes of media and scientists in China because the shuttle carries the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS) particle detector, mankind’s most ambitious effort to date to explore the universe’s origin with Nobel laureate physicist Samuel Ting as the program’s principal scientist.
The 7,000kg AMS worth US$2 billion will be placed in the International Space Station (ISS) and an international team of more than 600 scientists, including many from China’s mainland and Taiwan, have joined Ting’s exhausting but respectable AMS program.
China’s scientists have played a crucial role in designing and manufacturing some core parts of the device. However, Chinese journalists who hoped to cover the launching of Endeavor were denied entry to the site by a ban initiated by Frank Wolf, chairman of the Committee of Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies in the House of Representatives.
The United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) revoked the media passes granted to journalists from China due to the ban, or the “Wolf Clause,” which was regarded as “discriminative” by even Americans themselves.
On April 15, US President Barack Obama signed into law the budget bill for the 2011 fiscal year which will end on September 30 after the House of Representatives passed it.
The bill included a clause which bans any China-US joint scientific-research activities related to NASA or coordinated by the White House’s Science Policy Office.
Under the clause in the budget bill, none of the Congress-approved funds for the US government “may be used for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company.” It also applies the limitation “to any funds used to effectuate the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or utilized” by NASA.
Obviously, the “Wolf Clause” runs counter to the trend that both China and the United States are trying to push ahead their exchanges and cooperation in science and technology. During the third round of the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) held in Washington earlier this month, the two sides published accomplishments of the dialogue, which includes the cooperation in science and technology.
John P. Holdren, director of the Science and Technology Policy Office of the White House, told Xinhua that the cooperation on science and technology was one of the most dynamic fields in bilateral relations between China and the United States.
The “Wolf Clause” exposed the anxiety of hawkish politicians in the United States over China’s peaceful development in recent years, and it also demonstrated their shortsightedness to the whole world. The “Wolf Clause” was a result of compromise made by Obama to Republicans to avoid possible bankruptcy of the US government.
It is also a concession between US Republicans and Democrats, but the “clause” will not in any way change the trend of the increasingly closer scientific and technological cooperation between China and the US.
Richard Milner, director of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), thought China’s contribution to the project was “crucial.” The professor believed that the “Wolf Clause” was a “discriminative decision” and it would eventually hurt the US itself.
Although the clause will terminate when the 2011 fiscal year ends in September, Wolf seemed unreconciled and claimed he will work to extend the ban to next year.
Today, while the Chinese and US governments are deepening their cooperation, Wolf acted against the trend with a cold war mentality.