NASA has reversed the decision to bar six Chinese scientists from a space conference after US astronomers pledged to boycott the event, fighting for academic freedom.
The meeting is due to take place in California in early November,
and is set to focus on exoplanets - bodies outside the solar
The Chinese scientists were banned from participating, with NASA
saying the decision had been made because of their nationality
and security issues, AFP reported.
However, the move triggered a wave of outrage among prominent US
"The meeting is about planets located trillions of miles away,
with no national security implications," Geoff Marcy, an
astronomy professor at the University of California, Berkeley,
pointed out in an email to the organizers.
China's Foreign Ministry also blasted NASA's denial of the
researchers' applications as discriminatory, arguing that
politics should have no place at academic meetings.
After a few days, NASA wrote a letter to the Chinese scientists,
saying they had looked into the law and found no obstacles to the
"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," Xinhua quoted the letter as saying on Monday.
However, it isn’t clear yet if the move will work: the necessary
security checks can take several weeks. Plus, the relevant
government offices may still be closed after the US government
NASA administrator Charles Bolden responded earlier this month by
pledging to review the committee's decision, which he blamed on
"mid-level managers" at the agency's Ames Research Center, which
is hosting the event.
The confusion was apparently caused by a US law passed in 2011
that prevents NASA funds from being used to collaborate with
The organization wasn’t immediately available for comment after
the latest news, though.
NASA went through some hard times earlier this month: due to the
partial government shutdown and the failure to pass the budget on
time, 97 percent of their employees received no salaries in
October. Due to that fact, the organization didn’t manage to
release an official statement.