We're about to have more people in space! Tomorrow, China will launch three astronauts to the Tiangong 1 space station. There they will spend fifteen days conducting experiments, teaching schoolchildren, and studying the effects of living in space. Notable among the crew is Wang Yaping, who will become China's second female astronaut to travel to space.
China has had a remarkable rise as a spacefaring nation. Only ten years into their space program, they've designed and built their own launchers, capsules, satellites, and space station. They've walked and lived in space. Later this year, the China National Space Administration plans to launch both a Moon lander and a Moon rover to follow up on their two Moon orbiters.
While it may seem as if China is everywhere in space, there is one place you can be sure they aren't: the International Space Station (ISS). Other up-and-coming space nations such as Brazil and Malaysia have found warm welcomes there, as have continental powers like Germany and France. But China? Not a chance. And they're barred from more than just the ISS. NASA regulations imposed by the US Congress bar anyone receiving government money (which is everyone, even SpaceX) from collaborating with or in any way aiding Chinese nationals in space research. Even if you don't get government funding, if you're working with items from the US Munitions List, the same rules will apply.
In short, there is a complete firewall between the scientific exploration of space by the United States (and any nations wishing to work with them) and China. This is really a shame. Even in the depths of the Cold War, Russian and American astronauts linked their vehicles in space. The historians among you will point out that this didn't happen until 1975 - well after the US had landed on the Moon and won the space race. Space became less a new dimension of the battlefield and more an opportunity for cooperation and exploration.
Perhaps this is the real tell. Is the US so afraid of China that we can't let them on our space station? Does China's ambitious program in space threaten the paltry progress NASA has made in reaching out beyond the Earth? We can obviously live in space; so can they. Why don't we do it together? Imagine Russia, China, America, and Germany - the world's foremost powers - together in space. It'd be a great start on strengthening the ties which have strained between all these nations and the others which aspire to join them. C'mon NASA, make it so.