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China and the U.S. Parley over Access to Samples from Far Side of the Moon

NASA has been “grumbling” over the fact that the U.S. was not invited to cooperate in the Chang’e-6 program as were Italy, ESA, France, and Pakistan, and some are now wondering when—or if—they will be able to receive samples that Chang’e-6 brought back from the far side of the Moon. China is readily sharing the samples with other nations, but has commented on the U.S. complaints by pointing to the elephant in the room, namely the U.S. Wolf Amendment from 2011, which restricts NASA cooperation with China in regard to human space flight. Apparently, not wanting to entice Americans into violating U.S. law, Chinese representatives have indicated that U.S. requestors should first resolve the issue.

In order for U.S. institutions to receive samples from Chang’e-6, China must receive a waiver to the Wolf Amendment. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that he was confident that it would be forthcoming, and when it is, the Chinese will most likely allow such institutions access to the material. However, it is quite likely that they will continue to drag their feet on the matter as long as the U.S. takes no measures to deal with the self-imposed, draconian restrictions.

Further, Nelson’s continued statements that the U.S will return to the Moon by the end of 2026, i.e., before the scheduled Chinese landing in 2030, won’t make the one-sided “sharing” any easier for China to swallow. Nelson’s guarantee, of course, must be taken with a significant grain of salt, given the problems the U.S. space program has faced over the last few weeks. And, again, as China has accepted that this is, now, something of a race to the Moon, their own schedule may be pushed forward.