Commercial venture may 'break the ice' in space cooperation: report
U.S. private space firm SpaceX launched a shipment of supplies on Saturday to astronauts living in the International Space Station (ISS), carrying for the first time an experimental device independently designed by a Chinese college program.
The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft blasted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 5:07 pm from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday. About 10 minutes later, SpaceX successfully landed the rocket's first stage at the company's Landing Zone 1, just south of the launch site at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, as part of its effort to develop fully reusable rockets, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Among the Dragon's cargo to the ISS is a 3.5-kilogram device built by the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) that is aiming to discover if space radiation and microgravity cause gene mutations, and if so, how.
Deng Yulin, dean of BIT's School of Life Sciences who spearheaded the project, told the Global Times on Sunday that the device will help his team conduct research on the influence and rules of the space environment on gene mutations. As astronauts suffer from functional changes in their nervous system or to their immune systems after spending long periods in space, the research will play an important role in studying the causes and providing treatment suggestions.
Deng's team signed an agreement with NanoRacks, a Houston-based company that offers services for the commercial utilization of the ISS in August 2015 at a preferential price. Under the agreement, NanoRacks facilitates delivery of the device to the U.S. side of the space station and astronauts there will conduct studies using the device for about one month, data from which will be sent back to the Chinese researchers.
As there is a U.S. law in place, known as the Wolf amendment, which bans cooperation between the U.S. space agency NASA and Chinese government entities, some media dubbed this commercial cooperation as a move that "broke the ice" of space cooperation between China and U.S.
However, some experts pointed out that the cooperation does not necessarily convey a positive signal that China and the U.S. will start cooperation in space science.
Guo Huadong, dean of the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the Global Times that his team has conducted several academic communications with NASA, but no official cooperation has been approved yet. "Under the Wolf amendment, it is not very likely that the U.S. will cooperate with China in space research."
"China has been excluded from partnering in the ISS due to U.S. restrictions, so this commercial cooperation helps us open a new channel to conduct important experiments on the ISS," said Deng.
Deng added that through this cooperation, the U.S. should know that Chinese scientists are professional and devoted and they are an important force in international space science, instead of "monsters."