US to use Thai base for NASA mission

Featured - June 26th, 2012

The US plan to use the U-Tapao Airfield for a six-week atmospheric research study is met with controversies amid political turbulence in Thailand, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The US government plans to use the military base – once a US staging ground during the Vietnam War – for NASA to conduct its research on the effects of emissions on the atmosphere and monsoon rains. US embassy spokeswoman Kristin Kneedler told Southeast Asia Real Time that Thailand could benefit from the study which, she said, could help the country “anticipate and mitigate the impact of future floods and better understand climate change”. Floods ravaged through Thailand last year, causing major damage to the manufacturing industry.

Opposition has argued the plan would only impinge on Thailand’s sovereignty and could disrupt the country’s relations with China. Critics also say that the US sees Thailand as a strategic location in Asia to keep an eye on China. Prime Minister Yingluck is also accused of using the deal to gain a US visa for her brother, who exiled himself after being dethroned during a military coup.

The US stood its ground, stating that its NASA program was “purely scientific in nature and is intended for the good of all humanity”. Kneedler also said that the US does not handout visas in exchange for favors.