"Last November we had a delegation from the Chinese astronaut training center, they came over for a week at EAC [European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany] and we explained to them how our training program works," Chesson said.
That visit was preceded on Oct. 8, 2012 by the China Manned Space Agency's director general Wang Zhaoyao and the first Chinese female astronaut, Liu Yang, visiting Dordain, at ESA's Parisian headquarters. Yang was involved in the 2012 Shenzhou-9 mission that docked with Tiangong-1.
Following these two visits, a delegation of ESA astronauts and trainers will be going to Beijing in April to see how the Chinese train their crews, Chesson said.
With this growing relationship, ESA now offers introductory Chinese classes for its astronauts at the EAC.
Frank De Winne, a Belgian-born astronaut and head of ESA's astronaut corps, confirmed to SPACE.com that an astronaut exchange program was ongoing. But: "No discussion has taken place as to a potential flight by a European astronaut on a specific Shenzhou capsule," he said.
Joint astronaut training, Chinese lessons and Chesson's third working group, the exchange of payload facilities and experiments, all point to preparations for future missions for ESA crew on China's spacecraft. Chesson said that ESA is "seriously looking" at providing experiments for future Tiangong missions.
De Winne told SPACE.com that European experiments on a Tiangong mission or the future Chinese space station will "depend on the ESA member states' decision as well as the Chinese disposition."
The exchange of experiments could conceivably lead to Chinese science being carried out on the International Space Station by ESA astronauts. "For the moment, there are no specific experiments that have been identified," and any Chinese experiment on ISS "would have to first be discussed with the ISS partners," De Winne explained.
ESA has a history of cooperating with China on Earth observation since the 1990s and, more recently, under the Dragon programs — joint ESA-China programs for Earth observation that have been ongoing since 2004.
While ESA is forging ahead with Chinese cooperation, NASA is prohibited from engaging in bilateral cooperative activities with China or any Chinese owned companies, per a directive from Congress.
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