Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield says he hopes a major convention being held in China for the first time will lay the groundwork for future international co-operation in space.
Hadfield is attending the International Planetary Congress, which began in Beijing on Wednesday and brings together 100 space travellers from around the world.
China is building its own 60-ton space station and Hadfield said in an interview he hopes the Chinese will use the gathering to invite other countries on board.
"If they do offer something, I'm sure it will be measured and textured and we'll need to look at it — but it's all one small step at a time," he said Wednesday just before boarding a plane for Beijing.
"I really do hope that this helps be a catalyst for the type of co-operation that we ought to be doing."
Hadfield said some information coming from the Chinese space agency and the country's astronaut corps suggests the Asian giant is looking at ways to co-operate internationally in space.
"Imagine the symbolism of one of the other (space) agency's astronauts going and living and working and training with the Chinese astronaut corps or vice-versa," he added.
Hadfield, the only Canadian to attend, also stressed that the congress was not a political event.
"Even if they (the Chinese) don't make a direct overture, it is still 100 people who are quite influential in the space business having a chance — without a specific political agenda — to get together and talk about opportunities and build further relationships," he said.
Hadfield will be on a panel with Chinese astronauts — or "taikonauts," as they are sometimes called — who have already flown in space.
The conference is organized by the Chinese space agency in co-operation with the Association of Space Explorers, which represents about 400 astronauts, cosmonauts and others who have flown in space.
Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut, is the chief organizer and chairman of the event which runs until Sept. 15.
It's been reported that about 30 space travellers from the U.S., including active NASA astronauts, are also attending but they are there as private citizens and ASE members, not as official representatives of NASA.
Hadfield, a former association president, noted that China's long term goal is to put people on the moon and said he would like to follow the example of co-operation on the International Space Station.
"If you're looking back historically at this phase of leaving Earth, the way that we've done it on the I.S.S. (space station) set a terrific precedent and I want to continue that precedent and that path for whatever we do next," he said.
Hadfield predicted that a permanent manned base on the moon will eventually be built and "the best way for that to happen would be to follow the model of the International Space Station."
Hadfield was the first Canadian astronaut to command the International Space Station during a five-month stay that ended in May 2013.
He retired from the Canadian astronaut corps in July that year.