TOKYO — NASA is ready to cooperate with China in space exploration, the head of the US agency said on Tuesday, as Beijing aims to send a manned mission to the moon by around 2020.
"I am perfectly willing, if that's the direction that comes to me, to engage the Chinese in trying to make them a partner in any space endeavour. I think they're a very capable nation," NASA chief Charles Bolden said.
"They have demonstrated their capability to do something that only two other nations that have done -- that is, to put humans in space. And I think that is an achievement you cannot ignore," he told reporters on a visit to Tokyo.
"They are a nation that is trying to really lead. If we could cooperate we would probably be better off than if we would not," the former astronaut said.
China has been pouring billions of dollars into its space activities in an effort to close the gap with Western nations. It has carried out three manned space missions, including a spacewalk, and put a lunar orbiter in space.
NASA also has ambitious plans to put US astronauts back on the moon by 2020 to establish manned lunar bases for further exploration to Mars.
But a review panel appointed by President Barack Obama said last month existing budgets were not large enough to fund a return mission before 2020. The existing US space shuttle fleet is due to be retired next year.