During his first two weeks in office, President Biden wasted no time in dismantling large parts of Trump’s legacy, revoking more than 30 orders signed by his predecessor as he joined the Paris climate agreements, lifting the travel ban on Muslims and halting construction. mexican border wall.
But there is one area of Trump’s policy that Biden has embraced: space.
The Whites have announced support for a couple of Trump’s signing initiatives – the Artemis program, NASA’s efforts to bring astronauts back to the lunar surface and space forces as the sixth branch of the military.
The approval of the Artemis program means that the effort will become the first major funded human space exploration program to survive a post-Apollo change of presidents, completing a series of fitting efforts to send astronauts back to the moon and beyond. in the end they didn’t go anywhere.
For decades, presidential administrations have directed NASA to a variety of targets, from the moon to Mars, even to an asteroid, only to hold back programs or be killed by new White House occupants. This has disappointed proponents of space exploration, tarnished NASA’s reputation and raised complaints that the golden age of the space age of the 1960s and 1970s will never be recreated.
The Trump administration has accepted a study and ordered NASA to speed up its lunar campaign by directing it to land another man and the first woman on the lunar surface by 2024. dollars, she said she must achieve that goal. But for the first time since Apollo last year, Congress has allocated nearly $ 1 billion for a spacecraft capable of flying astronauts to and from the lunar surface.
Asked about the program last month, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki initially said she did not know the Biden administration’s position on the program. But the next day, she said the administration accepted him wholeheartedly.
“Now I’m very excited to tell my daughter all about it,” she said. “For those of you who have not been following closely, through the Artemis program, the United States government will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the moon – another man and woman on the moon, which is very exciting – behavior new and exciting science, prepare for future missions to Mars and demonstrate America’s values. ”
This position is in stark contrast to previous administrations. During the presidency of George W. Bush, NASA was ordered to go to the moon. Under Barack Obama, the goals were to reach an asteroid and Mars. Under Trump, it became the moon again.
The Apollo program was a diversion, successful in part because of the Cold War space race with the Soviet Union and in part because it became an untouchable program after the assassination of President Kennedy. It became what John Logsden, an honorary professor at the George Washington University Space Policy Institute, called a “monument to a fallen young president.”
Although many in the space community believed that the Trump administration’s goal of landing astronauts on the moon by 2024 was impossible and politically motivated, it gave impetus to the program. And many at the space agency worried that the Biden administration, which said almost nothing about space during the campaign, would change course again, setting a record, often compared to the scene in the animated film Peanuts, when Lucy pulls football away. as Charlie Brown is about to kick him.
Since taking office, however, Biden has shown an interest in space. He installed a moon rock in the Oval Office; The White House released a video in which he watched NASA’s rover land on Mars, and Biden called to congratulate Steve Yurchik, NASA’s acting administrator, who has spent more than 30 years at NASA.
Over the weekend, the White House released a video of Harris chatting with NASA astronaut Victor Glover, the first black astronaut to live aboard the International Space Station.
It is unclear whether the Biden administration will retain the National Space Council, which was resurrected by Trump and led, with great fanfare, by then-Vice President Pence. The administration has elevated the Office of Science and Technology Policy to a cabinet position, and many believe it could become a coordinating body for space policy.
It is also unclear when the Biden administration will nominate a nominee for a NASA administrator. Psaki recently said he could not confirm reports that former Florida Sen. Bill Nelson was involved, or provide a timetable for when the White House could name someone, saying the question was “interesting.”
Whoever the administrator is, this person will observe what has now become the first lunar program with significant funding from the Apollo era. For this, NASA, accustomed to swaying in different directions every time there are national elections, is grateful.
“We are so grateful that the administration came out in support of Artemis early, clearly and unequivocally,” Yurchik said. “Continuing Artemis’ movement is important not only for NASA, but also for our trading partners. … And this is really important for our international partners. ”
But the administration’s approval of the Artemis program does not mean that it will not put its own stamp on it.
NASA created what Yurchik called a “NASA internal team” to “take an independent view of planning and provide feedback” to the agency’s management.
“The 2024 target may no longer be achievable,” he said. “It was a high risk to start and it is certainly a high risk now. Therefore, we must look at it and set out the most efficient and effective way forward for Artemis. ”
There is support in Congress, even when Democrats take control of Parliament.
“Obviously I want to continue to build on what we’ve already done,” Don Beyer (D-Va.), The new chairman of the House Space Subcommittee, said in an interview. The 2024 target may have been a range, so let’s see what we can do to get our moon back on landing.
And last month, a group of 11 Democratic senators, including Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, the new head of the subcommittee on science and space, wrote to Biden, urging him to continue funding the Artemis program.
“Major space exploration efforts are facing disruptions as administrations change and priorities change,” the letter said. “Now is the time for stability if the country is to make progress on these initiatives. NASA has made significant progress through the Artemis program, and we strongly believe that these efforts must continue.”