NASA says the U.S. can someday cooperate with China as it did with the Soviet Union on the Apollo-Soyuz joint project in 1975.
Responding to questions Monday at an event hosted by the Mitchell Institute on Capitol Hill, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the U.S. should pursue such a relationship with China in human space exploration.
"We were in an incredible Cold War with the Soviets at the time we flew Apollo-Soyuz; it was because leaders in both nations felt it was time," he said. "That represented a great use of soft power, if you will. Look where we are today. I think we will get there [with China]. And I think it is necessary."
Current law prohibits NASA from engaging with its Chinese counterparts on such projects. But Bolden, who will travel to Beijing later this year, says Congress should consider revising the law.
Peter Huessy, a senior adviser at the Mitchell Institute and prominent defense consultant, tells VOA he is not opposed to a revision of relevant law, but cautions against any premature enthusiasm.
"We tend to engage in a lot of wishful thinking when it comes to China," he said. "We should understand China is an explicit adversary and enemy of the United States, according to their own internal documents and strategies and publications."
Brendan Curry, vice president of the Space Foundation, tells VOA that small steps can be taken in bilateral relations to calm lawmakers' fears about China's threat to U.S. space assets.
The initial steps, he said, would perhaps involve such projects as "working on weather satellite data sharing and things like that — things that will make critics on China on Capitol Hill a little bit more relaxed about the idea of cooperation."
Currently there is no strong voice on the Hill to lift the ban on space cooperation with China, given Beijing's growing military capabilities in space.
NASA's Bolden says he does not expect the ban to be lifted during his tenure.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin service.