WASHINGTON: The US space agency NASA announced Wednesday it has cancelled the August research mission it had hoped to base at U-tapao airbase after the government refused to endorse the project.
The official announcement, on the NASA website early Thursday Thailand time, said:
" NASA cancelled the SEAC4RS mission, which was scheduled to begin in August 2012, due to the absence of necessary approvals by regional authorities in the timeframe necessary to support the mission's planned deployment and scientific observation window."
The single paragraph was added to a website page which described the project in glowing terms as "something that has never been done before: probing a vast expanse of the Southeast Asian atmosphere from top to bottom" during the monsoon season.
There was no further comment from the space agency as of Wednesday, Washington time.
In Thailand, the Democrat party on Wednesday rejected all blame for the cancellation.
The scheme was scrapped after the cabinet decided to forward the project proposal to parliament for debate in August, as delivery of equipment and preparations must take place ahead of time for the research to begin in the same month.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said critics did not oppose NASA's request to use U-tapao airport for its program, but wanted the government to carefully consider the project and disclose more information.
It was absurd that the government was pointing the finger of blame at the opposition for doing its job, he said.
"Why doesn't the government back down on the reconciliation or charter amendment bills? Things would have been better," he said.
Mr Abhisit said the government should admit it had not thoroughly vetted the project, and that any loss of benefits that would have arisen from the study was partly because of this.
Deputy Democrat leader Korn Chatikavanij said the government was to blame for any loss of opportunity because it was avoiding questions instead of looking into them.
He challenged the government to grant NASA permission to proceed if it was certain the scheme did not violate the constitution.
"I'm sure the scheme has something to offer to us. But I doubt there is no hidden agenda," Mr Korn said.
Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut called for the removal of Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul and Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi for distorting facts and lying to the public about the shipment of equipment for use in the weather research project.
Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn - who had previously compared the project to US requests to use the airport during the Vietnam War and said it would raise suspicions in Cambodia, Vietnam and China - suggested a special parliamentary session to debate the scheme if the government insisted it was essential for the country's benefit.
"There are six weeks to go before the project is scheduled to begin. Why waste another month if it is really important?" Mr Somchai said.
Mr Surapong told US ambassador Kristie Kenney about the cabinet decision on Tuesday before leaving for Dubai.
"The US ambassador expressed disappointment but understood Thailand's internal process and hopes to cooperate with Thailand in other aspects," Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said.
Ms Kenney will convey the decision to NASA, he said.
He also quoted her as saying that it was yet to be decided if NASA will choose Thailand as the base for its climate study in the region after the delay.
The armed forces have been instructed by Defense Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat to prepare information about the project for the joint sitting in August.
Defense spokesman Thanathip Sawangsaeng said the information will relate to the study's security aspects.
28 June 2012