Space after all: NASA lifts conference ban for Chinese scientists after massive uproar

Space after all: NASA lifts conference ban for Chinese scientists after massive uproar

NASA has reversed the decision to bar six Chinese scientists from a space conference after US astronomers pledged to boycott the event, fighting for academic freedom.

  The meeting is due to take place in California in early November,  and is set to focus on exoplanets – bodies outside the solar  system.  

  The Chinese scientists were banned from participating, with NASA  saying the decision had been made because of their nationality  and security issues, AFP reported.  

  However, the move triggered a wave of outrage among prominent US  astronomers.  

“The meeting is about planets located trillions of miles away,  with no national security implications,” Geoff Marcy, an  astronomy professor at the University of California, Berkeley,  pointed out in an email to the organizers.  

  China’s Foreign Ministry also blasted NASA’s denial of the  researchers’ applications as discriminatory, arguing that  politics should have no place at academic meetings.  

  After a few days, NASA wrote a letter to the Chinese scientists,  saying they had looked into the law and found no obstacles to the  six attending.  

“We have since been able to clarify the intent of the  referenced legislation and are pleased to inform you that this  decision has been reversed and your paperwork is being reviewed  for clearance,” Xinhua quoted the letter as saying on Monday.  

  However, it isn’t clear yet if the move will work: the necessary  security checks can take several weeks. Plus, the relevant  government offices may still be closed after the US government  shutdown.  

  NASA administrator Charles Bolden responded earlier this month by  pledging to review the committee’s decision, which he blamed on  “mid-level managers” at the agency’s Ames Research Center, which  is hosting the event.  

  The confusion was apparently caused by a US law passed in 2011  that prevents NASA funds from being used to collaborate with  China.  

  The organization wasn’t immediately available for comment after  the latest news, though.  

  NASA went through some hard times earlier this month: due to the  partial government shutdown and the failure to pass the budget on  time, 97 percent of their employees received no salaries in  October. Due to that fact, the organization didn’t manage to  release an official statement.