Hong Kong — NASA has reversed an earlier decision to ban Chinese scientists from the Kepler Science Conference in November, and has sent them a letter inviting them back, according to a report from China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
“A few weeks ago, you received an email … noting that we were unable to accommodate your request to attend the Second Kepler Science Conference at the NASA Ames Research Center. 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,” said the letter.
“We hope you will be able to join us and celebrate the science enabled by Kepler,” it added.
Xinhua obtained a copy of the letter from one of the originally banned scientists who refused to be named, said the report.
The ban was based on a controversial law passed in 2011 prohibiting government funds from being used to host Chinese nationals at NASA facilities.
The decision to ban the Chinese scientists sparked a boycott of the conference from several prominent American scientists, including Professor Debra Fischer of Yale University, and Professor Geoff Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley.
“In good conscience, I cannot attend a meeting that discriminates in this way. The meeting is about planets located trillions of miles away, with no national security implications,” wrote Professor Marcy in an e-mail to the NASA organizers.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden blamed “mid-level managers” for a so-called misinterpretation of the law and vowed to reconsider the applications of six Chinese researchers.
A separate letter to the Chinese scientists said with the re-opening of the U.S. federal government, the conference will go ahead as scheduled on November 4-8 at NASA Ames Research Center.
“We anticipate that foreign national registrants will be cleared for attendance prior to the conference start,” it said. ” All foreign national registrants will receive notification as soon as clearance has been granted.”
China slammed the decision by NASA to ban the Chinese scientists earlier this month as “discriminatory,” and criticized it for being similar to previous U.S. action against the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. An official said it showed a U.S. fear of China’s fast development, according to reports.
U.S. Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, who drafted the 2011 law, has said that NASA has misinterpreted the restrictions in the legislation. It does not restrict individual Chinese scientists, but only those acting as official representatives of the Chinese government, he said.
The Kepler space telescope has been searching for planets outside of our solar system. Image/pri.org