China Will Propose That NASA Use Shenzhou for International Space Station Duty

By Keith Cowing
March 1, 2005
Filed under
China Will Propose That NASA Use Shenzhou for International Space Station Duty

Mengxin Sun, First Secretary for Science and Technology at the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC has said that he intends to brief the new NASA Administrator (as soon as that announcement is made) about a proposal for U.S. use of China’s Shenzhou spacecraft series as a crew/cargo carrier for the ISS program.

Sun said that he has already made a preliminary presentation on Shenzhou and China’s overall program to former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe late last year.

Meanwhile, at least one employee of the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC is enrolled at the Space Policy Institute (which is run by Prof. John Logsdon – also a former Kerry campaign space advisor) at George Washington University.

Editor’s note: A clarification on this story as reported yesterday. Sun was unable to answer any space-related questions asked of him at the presentation he gave at the National Academy of Sciences yesterday and designated someone in the audience to respond for him. Noting his lack of space expertise, Sun responded several times to the audience “I am not a space man.” The quotes attributed to Sun above, as originally reported, were not made by him, but rather by someone present in the audience (Whitney Wen) whom Sun designated to speak on his behalf (see below). Sun did not seek to correct anything that Whitney Wen subsequently said..

Editor’s note: John Logsdon replies:


As long as you are trying to get Frank’s facts correct – Whitney Wen, the young woman who spoke up at the SSB meeting yesterday is a Visiting Researcher at the Space Policy Institute, working on issues of Chinese space policy. She is a graduate of International Space University, is here on a visiting scholar J-1 visa, and does not work as an assistant/interpreter for Mr. Sun or have any other employment connection to the Chinese embassy. She has lived in embassy housing at some times during her stay. I was not at the meeting yesterday morning, but my understanding is that she spoke from the audience trying to help Mr. Sun respond to questions. She is not “enrolled” at GW, i.e., she is not a student. She is the only Chinese person in residence here.”

Editor’s note: According to the George Washington University Center for International Science and Technology Policy website: “Whitney (Yan) Wen – China (January 2004 – June 2005 (extended)) Ms. Wen comes from the International Space University in France.  She is a visiting scholar for the Space Policy Institute and will be researching the international aspects of U.S. Space policy, with particular attention to issues connected to U.S. policy in the space sector with respect to China and other Asian countries.  Office location and phone: 1957 E Street, NW, Suite 403, 202-994-1592.”

Ms. Wen’s affiliation with GWU goes back further. Her “2001/2002 Individual project” is shown on the ISU website as “Dragon in orbit: is China’s space a threat to other powers?” Wen, Yan, George Washington University – Space Policy Institute, USA”

Editor’s note: Frank Sietzen, who attended the event at the NAS, replies that Mengxin Sun specifically deferred to Whitney Wen to help him answer questions – questions put to him as an official representative of the Chinese government. Further, Whitney Wen spoke to Sietzen, in flawless English, in a capacity where she was clearly speaking for the Chinese government and made no attempt to state that anything she said was her own personal opinion.

Sietzen says “I asked her ‘does your government seek a role in the International Space Station?’. Her answer was ‘yes’.”

She also told Sietzen that China was preparing a second presentation for NASA on their possible role in ISS but that they would wait until the new Administrator was in office before they’d make that presentation.

Sietzen said that he hold Whitney Wen that there “already is a person in this position now i.e. Fred Gregory.”

She replied “No, we would rather wait until the new Administrator was confirmed such that we understand the relationship between him and the Administration.”

She went on to tell Sietzen that she was taking courses from Prof. Logsdon, speaking very highly of Logsdon, according to Sietzen to “learn about the American space program.”

Mr. Sun replies: “I did not say those things as described in the article, and will not bear any responsibility for the reports thereof which are not in accordance with facts.”

Editor’s note: I stand by my story and the revisions/clarifications made since its first posting. My advice to Mr. Sun is that he needs to be much more clear about who does – and does not speak for him – and to do so at the time he appears in public – not after the fact. In addition, if Mr. Sun does not know enough about a specific topic to answer questions, then he should send someone else to represent him and his government instead of defering to someone in the audience whose official role is not made crystal clear at the outset.

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