The conference is being held at NASA's Ames research center in California next month and will include both U.S. and international teams who work on NASA's Kepler space telescope program which has been searching space for signs of planets beyond the Earth's solar system. NASA officials have rejected applications from Chinese scientists, including those working at U.S. institutions, who had hoped to attend the conference. The rejection of applications is in accordance with legislation passed in March that prohibits anyone from China setting foot inside a NASA building. The law was initiated by congressman Frank Wolf, chair of the House appropriations committee, which has jurisdiction over NASA. The law is an aggressive move towards restricting any Chinese access to NASA facilities in the hopes of countering any attempts at espionage.
NASA's ban of Chinese researchers from the conference has angered U.S. scientists who say that the Chinese are being unfairly discriminated against. In response, a growing number of U.S. scientists are planning to boycott the conference, with some senior academics pulling out entire research groups. Alan Boss, co-organizer of the conference has refused to discuss the issue, but has said that: "This is not science, it's politics unfortunately."
Some are worried that the legislation banning Chinese nationals from NASA facilities will damage well established relationships between U.S. and Chinese researchers, and negate one of America's most reputable organizations. News of the boycott comes amidst a U.S. government shutdown that has forced NASA to furlough 97% of its employees. The last thing NASA needs is a loss of support.