NASA Administrator Charles Bolden today extended an olive branch to several Chinese scientists that were banned from an upcoming meeting at NASA’s Ames Research Center as part of the space agency’s attempt to thwart foreign spies. But it’s not clear if his peace offering will make any difference.
Bolden was responding to a letter he received on Tuesday from Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), who berated Bolden for how Ames officials had handled registration for a November conference to present data gathered by the now-moribund Kepler spacecraft. The rejection letters, sent last month to six Chinese nationals, had cited language that Wolf had inserted in a 2011 spending bill as the reason for their exclusion. In reality, the decision was in line with a NASA policy that Bolden announced in March that banned many citizens from eight countries, including China, from attending any event at a NASA center. It is not clear whether that policy, which Bolden said was a temporary moratorium pending a thorough review of NASA security practices, is still in effect.
In his response, Bolden promises to “recontact the [scientists] immediately upon the reopening of the government to allow them to reapply” to attend the meeting. They will still need to pass a security clearance, however, a process that generally takes several weeks. The conference is scheduled to begin on 4 November, and its venue is also up in the air. NASA Ames remains closed because of the government shutdown, and some scientists are trying to get the conference moved to another, non-NASA location.