Astronaut Leroy Chiao talks about how since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian space program has been working closely with NASA. But current Sino-American relations in space are basically non-existent.
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Leroy Chiao on Space Relations Question: What was it like when former Soviet cosmonauts began training with NASA? Leroy Chiao: Sure, you're right, in the early days, and in the Apollo days, it was a space race. We were battling against the Soviet Union in space trying to see who could get up into space and who could get to the Moon first. Ultimately the Apollo missions we accomplished that first. In the '90's then, I came into NASA in 1990, so it was perfect timing and the Berlin wall was falling, or had just fallen, and pretty soon, in '92 or '93, we started working with the Russians. Then this was a weird thing. We had two Cosmonauts come over, two folks that I actually got to know pretty well later on, but at the time, we were kind of looking at them in the Astronaut office as curiosities. This was the first time we had these ex-Soviet Cosmonauts in Houston, they were going to train with us, and one of them was going to fly on the space shuttle. We were going to send a couple of Americans over to fly on Soyuz and go fly to the Mir Space Station, and it was a whole new thing. A lot of us, including me, viewed it with some skepticism, because I grew up during the Cold War, so to me, I had been hit with all this propaganda all along that their stuff wasn't that good, it wasn't that safe and we were so much better. And of course, what I found out later was that their space stuff was very good and good enough that I was certainly comfortable flying on their equipment. So, it was kind of a revelation of sorts as the years went by and I think it underscores the importance right now of international cooperation. I just completed an assignment as a member of a ten-member committee called, The Augustine Committee, that the White House Commissioned to study what NASA is doing and then to put forward options to the new administration for going forward. In fact, the NASA Administrators are meeting today with President Obama to discuss those matters. So, one of the conclusions that we came up with, one of the findings was the importance of the international relationships that has come out of the international space station and how we should enhance that kind of thing and actually more forward and expand that framework to move forward into what we call exploration and going beyond lower Earth orbit. Question: What are relations like now between NASA and other country’’ space programs? Leroy Chiao: You bet, sure. You know as far as Russia goes, they've been our partner for a long time now, since the early '90's. So you know, what's that, that's more than 15 years. And there have been times where things were a little tense, a little testy, but by and large, the partnership has been very successful. To give you two examples of that, when the Columbia accident occurred, the Russians supported us with their spacecraft faring our astronauts, including me, to the space station and also supplies. Previous to that, when they were having troubles, the Space Shuttle supported the Space Station Mir bringing up much needed supplies and replacements, critical spares, really. That they were able to keep their space station going for much longer than they would have without us. So, I think that shows, just quickly in two examples, the value of international cooperation. I think that cooperating in something as visible as space exploration and space flight can only improve relations between the two countries because what happens is, you're working on a common project in a very visible light and so, you're motivated to not have conflicts with each other in other areas. And bringing up China is a good example. In the early '90's, China got serious about wanting to launch astronauts into space and they were actually quite successful in launching many communication satellites. And in the mid-'90's, there was something called the ITAR laws that the U.S. passed and basically shut down western countries, most western countries from launching on Chinese launchers

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