Chinese journalists were denied access to this week's space shuttle launch in what is believed to be the first application of a congressional ban on interactions between NASA and the Chinese government.
The 16 May launch of the Endeavor was a big news story for China because its scientific payload, the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, was built in part by Chinese scientists. But journalists seeking to cover the event—the penultimate flight before the shuttle fleet is retired—weren't allowed into the Kennedy Space Center.
A NASA spokesperson says the agency was simply following instructions in last month's 2011 spending bill that averted a government-wide shutdown. The legislation prohibits NASA from using any resources to host visits by a Chinese official to any NASA facility as well as for collaborations with any Chinese government entity. The Chinese journalists work for Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, and thus are considered government employees.
The language was written by Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), chair of a House of Representatives spending panel that oversees NASA's budget. Wolf is a vocal critic of China's human rights record and what he believes are government-sanctioned cyberattacks on U.S. institutions and businesses.
Xinhua editorialized about NASA's decision in an article that appeared Wednesday in China Daily. "Chinese journalists were denied the opportunity to make live coverage of the shuttle's blast-off, just as their peers from other countries have done. The Chinese journalists were also kept away from NASA's press conferences. Obviously, the "Wolf Clause" runs counter to the trend that both China and the United States are trying to push ahead their exchanges and cooperation in science and technology."
With reporting by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee.