Nasa reverses ban on Chinese scientists at exoplanets conference

Prominent US astronomers had threatened to boycott space conference after ban imposed on Chinese astronomers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 11:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 5:42pm

Nasa has reversed a decision to ban six Chinese scientists from a space conference, Xinhua reported, after prominent US astronomers vowed to boycott the meeting in a row over academic freedom.

The United States space agency had barred them from participating in the meeting on exoplanets - bodies outside the solar system - in California in early November, saying it was legally obliged to do so because of a bill restricting US space co-operation with China.

A Nasa committee has now written to the six to change course, Xinhua reported.

"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.

"We hope you will be able to join us," it added.

The initial decision to block the six led to an academic uproar and some leading US astronomers, including Yale University's Debra Fischer, announced plans to boycott the conference.

China's foreign ministry also blasted Nasa's action as discriminatory, arguing that politics should have no place at academic meetings.

Nasa administrator Charles Bolden blamed "mid-level managers" at the agency's Ames Research Centre, which is hosting the event.

Ninety-seven per cent of Nasa staff were sent home without pay owing to the partial US government shutdown this month after congress failed to pass a budget in time.

The ban appears to be the latest Nasa-China row related to a provision authored by US congressman Frank Wolf in 2011.

Wolf, among the most vocal China critics, succeeded in inserting into an April 2011 government spending bill language that would restrict US space co-operation with China.