Former astronaut Pam Melroy answered questions about China's push for space superiority during a Senate hearing Thursday to consider her nomination as NASA deputy administrator.
The hearing took place less than a day after Melroy's potential boss, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, cited concerns China was making progress and if the United States was going to keep up, then we need to "get off our duff."
"China has made their goals very clear to take away space superiority from the United States," Melroy said, according to Space.com, "So, we are right to be concerned, when you add the other concerns of intellectual property theft and aggressive behavior in space."
Melroy added she would abide by the current law forbidding NASA from most activities with China without congressional support – the law is commonly known as the Wolf Amendment.
"NASA will continue to follow the law," she said. "It's there to ensure that the U.S. thinks very carefully about any kind of engagement with China. However, we have to operate together in the space domain. So there are times when it's in the best interest of the United States to talk to China."
Melroy recounted a recent incident during the hearing when a Chinese Long March 5B rocket plunged to the Earth uncontrollably May 8.
"NASA developed orbital debris standard mitigation practices, which have been proliferated throughout the world, in law and policy [and how] good technical norms and safety norms should proliferate. We also need to call China out — as Administrator Nelson did — when they violate those norms."
Nelson expressed concern Wednesday about the Chinese's progress in sending three landers to the moon's south pole in the coming years. The moon's south pole contains ice which could be used to create rocket fuel for future missions.
"They're going to be landing humans on the moon," Nelson said. "That should tell us something about our need to get off our duff and get our human landing system going vigorously."
NASA's timeline under former President Donald Trump to get boots on the moon was 2024; the Biden administration has not committed to a timetable.
Melroy also took a question on if Russia withdrew from the International Space Station.
"It would be a serious outcome for the optimum safe operations of the International Space Station," Melroy said "It was designed from the beginning with the assumption that there would be Russian and American crewmembers present. The current cooperation, in fact, on the space station with Russia is a shining light in the relationship, and also in the indications of 'soft power' that NASA can provide."
"I don't think it's unreasonable that Russia is talking about it also," Melroy said, referencing the deterioration of the ISS. "If I am confirmed [as deputy administrator], I look forward to actually having a conversation with Roscosmos [Russia's space agency] and find out what they really think, because we need to be harmonizing timing."
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