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NASA reverses course on Chinese scientists ban


NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission members work in the data processing room beside Mission Control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on August 2, 2012, ahead of the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity.



NASA has reversed a ban on six Chinese scientists from a space conference in California next month after prominent US astronomers threatened a boycott.

The US space agency has called the ban a mistake, saying officials misinterpreted a security law in barring the scientists from its Kepler Science Conference in November.

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A NASA committee has now written to the six to change course.

"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," China's official Xinhua news agency quoted the letter as saying.

"We hope you will be able to join us," it added.

Xinhua said the space agency changed course after its initial decision caused an uproar among some US scientists.

Geoff Marcy, an astronomy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in an email to the organizers: "The meeting is about planets located trillions of miles away, with no national security implications."

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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.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden responded earlier this month by pledging to review the committee's decision.

The confusion apparently stemmed from a US law passed in 2011 that prevents NASA funds from being used to collaborate with China or to host Chinese visitors at its facilities.

Rep. Frank Wolf, who drafted the law, sent a letter to NASA clarifying the legislation, which he said "primarily restricts bilateral ... (NASA) activities with the Communist Chinese government or Chinese-owned companies."

AFP contributed to this report.