NASA Director Is Terribly Mean About Chinese New Moon Samples


China recently became the first country in history to return samples taken from the far side of the moon. This historic mission could have major implications for our understanding of the evolution of our natural satellite and its ability to host human life.

But thanks to a law called the Wolf Amendment, passed by the U.S. government in 2011, American scientists are largely barred from analyzing these samples. Leaders of the Chinese space program were quick to point out a roadblock.

“The source of the obstacle to US-China aerospace cooperation still lies in the Wolf Amendment,” said Bian Zhigang, vice chairman of the Chinese National Space Administration told reporters last week. “If the US really wants to have normal space exchanges with China, I think it should take concrete measures to remove these obstacles.”

In a surprisingly venomous response earlier this week, NASA Director Bill Nelson fired back.

“Make it available to the international community, just as we will do as we bring back additional samples, and as we did half a century ago with the samples we brought back from the six Apollo Moon landings,” he said. told CNN.

Nelson has often been negative about China’s space ambitions, suggesting that the country is conducting military experiments in space and is planning to seize resources on the moon.

Still, the moon rock statement is baffling, given the Chinese space program’s willingness to share its unique scientific treasure. (To be fair, Nelson did admit he was “glad to hear” that China “intends” to share the materials, but the overall tone was still unnecessarily catty.)

This is especially true because there is still a chance that the 2 kilograms of material collected earlier this year by China’s Chang’e 6 rover could be examined by American scientists.

“We are currently in the process with our scientists and our lawyers to ensure that the instructions and restrictions that the Chinese are pushing for… are not a violation of the law, the Wolf Amendment,” Nelson said. CNN“At this point I don’t see any violation.”

While the amendment prohibits NASA from using government funds to work directly with China, it does include a clause that would allow such cooperation if the agency receives certification from the FBI that there is no threat to national security or risk of inadvertently leaking space-related technology or data.

NASA has already urged scientists to to study samples returned to the near side of the moon in 2020 by China’s Chang’e 5 mission, and announced at the time that it had received the necessary certifications.

China is the only country in the world to softly land on the far side of the moon, let alone bring back samples, making the discovery truly unique for the scientific community.

However, NASA already has its eye on returning astronauts to the surface as part of the 2026 Artemis III mission, something that is “much more difficult than a robotic landing,” as Nelson told CNN.

But whether the agency will deliver on its lofty promises remains to be seen. The first manned mission to the lunar surface in more than 50 years is an incredibly complex Rube Goldberg machine, with its Space Launch System rocket, its Orion spacecraft and SpaceX’s mammoth Starship acting as a last-mile shuttle in lunar orbit.

In other words, NASA has a lot to prove, and the Wolf Amendment only stands in the way of its ambitions.

More about the Wolf Amendment: There’s an extremely stupid reason why NASA scientists can’t study China’s amazing new moon rocks

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