OTTAWA, Dec. 29 -- Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is calling for cooperation with China in space and wants it to be part of any international effort to return to the moon, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported Sunday on its website.
"I think right now a lot of people see it as kind of crazy to cooperate with the Chinese, but I think it's the next logical step, " CBC quoted Hadfield as saying in a recent interview with the Canadian Press.
China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. Hadfield said China's ambitious space program aims to eventually put an astronaut on the moon.
He also cited the fact that China launched in 2011 an experimental space station, saying it will be replaced with a more permanent one to be completed in 2020.
However, China was barred from participating in the current orbiting space station, largely because of U.S. objections over political differences.
Hadfield said a logical progression would be to include as many countries as possible in an international mission beyond Earth -- "hopefully including China and India and the other countries that have launch capability and then progress to the next stepping stone, the next natural waypoint out to space, which is the moon."
Hadfield, who became a Canadian astronaut in 1992, visited Mir in November 1995 on the U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis, becoming the only Canadian to ever board the Russian space station.
"If you predicted in 1989 that I would fly on an American shuttle to go build a Russian spaceship, people would have said you were crazy," said Hadfield, who last March became the first Canadian to command the International Space Station.
"So I think looking forward, there's a great opportunity to include the Chinese in the world space program -- the international space program," Hadfield added.
Hadfield attracted worldwide attention with his dramatic photos of the Earth, his tweets and his Space Oddity video during his space station visit which began when he blasted off in December 2012. He retired after returning to Earth in mid-May 2013 and is now an adjunct professor with the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
Iain Christie, executive vice-president of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, which represents the interests of more than 700 aerospace companies across Canada, said China's presence in space cannot be ignored.
"I think China is back where we were in North America 50 years ago," he said in the interview. "I am hopeful that their enthusiasm for space becomes infectious to the rest of us."
Christie said decisions will have to be made in the coming years.
"We're going to have to decide what to do about engaging with China in space -- whether it's to be more collaborative or more competitive," he concluded.