NASA Astronauts in Space to Discuss Upcoming SpaceX Crew Dragon Return – NASA
NASA is about to grab its first taste of Mars. On 30 July, its Perseverance rover is set to launch to the red planet — the first step towards fulfilling a long-standing dream of planetary scientists. If everything goes to plan, Perseverance will arrive in February 2021 and drive around, collecting samples of rock that — one day — other spacecraft will pick up and fly back to Earth. The rocks will become the first samples ever returned from Mars.
They will join a priceless collection of cosmic material brought back from other planetary bodies throughout the space age. From lunar rocks gathered by the Apollo astronauts to shards of a distant asteroid collected by robot spacecraft, these samples of other worlds have reshaped scientific study of the Solar System.
Without planetary missions, the only way scientists can directly study rocks from other worlds is to analyse meteorites that have fallen to Earth. “Just waiting for [material] to arrive here on Earth would be a lot cheaper,” says Queenie Hoi Shan Chan, a planetary scientist at Royal Holloway University of London in Egham, UK. “But we cannot just wait for it to happen, because it’s really rare.”
And so space agencies go to a lot of trouble to collect fragments of the Moon, Mars, and other worlds. One advantage is that in well-equipped Earthly laboratories, researchers can apply tools and techniques to understand these samples that they can’t from a small spacecraft, Chan says. Sample-return missions also allow researchers to know the exact geological area their rock comes from. That is “priceless context,” says Jessica Barnes, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
With two asteroid-sampling missions under way, and renewed interest in the Moon, the 2020s are shaping up to be a golden age of sample return. Nature looks at the sample-return missions that have been carried out so far — and how Perseverance’s goal to bring back rocks from Mars fits into these efforts.
The first and largest collection of samples comes from the Moon. Between 1969 and 1972, a dozen astronauts on NASA’s Apollo programme flew to the Moon, walked around on it, and picked up and brought back 382 kilograms of lunar rocks (see ‘Sampling the Solar System’). Studies of those samples have rewritten scientific understanding of the history of the Solar System.
“When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, many considered that our small moon had formed cold ,” says Donald Brownlee, an astronomer at the University of Washington in Seattle. “This turned out to be spectacularly wrong.” Studies of the Moon rocks showed instead that the Moon was hot at its birth, more than 4.5 billion years ago, and covered with an ocean of molten rock.
Researchers are still learning from the Apollo samples. Last year, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, NASA began to open some Apollo samples that had been sealed since they came back to Earth, to see what new science they might yield. Those studies are under way, although progressing slowly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Three Soviet Luna missions, all involving robots, also brought back small amounts of Moon dust between 1970 and 1976. And China plans to retrieve some lunar samples with its upcoming Chang’e 5 mission, which could launch by the end of this year and would deliver the first lunar sample return since the 1970s.
NASA is looking to bring back many more Moon rocks as part of its Artemis programme, which aims to send astronauts back to the lunar surface by the end of 2024.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is the only space agency so far to have brought back material from an asteroid. In 2010, the Hayabusa spacecraft returned from a visit to the potato-shaped asteroid Itokawa, although it wasn’t clear whether it had managed to collect any samples during a series of mishaps at the asteroid. But when the spacecraft returned to Earth, JAXA researchers opened it and found more than 1,500 precious asteroid grains there.
“These are tiny particles that are even smaller than the diameter of a human hair,” says Chan. “On Earth we can do a great deal of detailed analysis, even with that.” That includes determining the isotopic composition of water in the Itokawa material, an analysis that isn’t possible in space because the instrument required takes up most of a room. Studies of the Itokawa grains confirmed, among other things, that the most common type of meteorite that falls to Earth, called an ordinary chondrite, comes from silicate-rich asteroids such as Itokawa1. The Itokawa particles had also been heated and shocked at some point in the past, suggesting that they had experienced cosmic collisions in the asteroid belt.
Two other asteroid samples should arrive on Earth soon, if all goes well. JAXA’s second asteroid-sampling mission, Hayabusa2, is due to land in Australia in December. It should be carrying a couple of grams of material collected from a carbon-rich asteroid called Ryugu, which lies between the orbits of Earth and Mars. And NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently orbiting its own asteroid, the diamond-shaped Bennu, in the hope of grabbing a sample from it in October and returning to Earth in 2023.
In 2004, NASA’s Stardust spacecraft whizzed through the tail of Comet Wild-2, six times faster than a speeding bullet, and grabbed the only samples of a comet that have ever been brought back to Earth. Those, too, turned up huge surprises.
NASA named the mission Stardust because scientists thought the comet contained ancient dust from other stars, frozen in ice for billions of years. “This idea was also spectacularly wrong,” says Brownlee, the mission’s principal investigator. When scientists got their hands on the cometary dust, they found the grains had formed close to the Sun at incandescently hot temperatures. That showed that hot materials had been transported throughout the early Solar System and somehow become incorporated into the icy body of the comet.
While flying through space, Stardust also scooped up at least seven dust particles from interstellar space. They were surprisingly different from one another, including two that contained crystalline minerals that researchers had not expected to find in the space between the stars2.
Despite Stardust’s success, 2004 wasn’t a great year for sample return. After spending more than two years in space collecting some of the charged particles that stream from the Sun and make up the solar wind, NASA’s Genesis spacecraft crashed into the Utah desert. As it flew back to Earth, its parachute failed to deploy when re-entering the atmosphere, and the spacecraft plummeted into the ground at 300 kilometres per hour, breaking apart.
But engineers salvaged much of the canister containing the precious solar-wind samples. Researchers have used them to make discoveries, including that the solar wind — and thus the Sun — has a higher proportion of the main oxygen isotope than has Earth, contrary to what scientists had expected3.
Returning samples from Mars is a bigger challenge than any other mission so far. Mars is farther away than the Moon and has more gravity than a comet or an asteroid, making it harder to escape the surface and get back to Earth.
NASA wants Perseverance to drill and store at least 30 tubes of Martian rock and soil at its landing site in Jezero Crater. Long-term plans call for NASA and the European Space Agency to collaborate to send a second rover to collect those tubes and launch them into Martian orbit, and a third spacecraft to fetch them from Martian orbit and fly them back to Earth. The aim is for the samples to reach Earth in 2031.
But Japan might well achieve the first sample return from Mars — sort of. JAXA is developing a spacecraft that would fly to Mars’ biggest moon, Phobos, and scoop up some dust there and fly it back to Earth as early as 2029. The mission is called Martian Moons eXploration, or MMX.
MMX would mark the first material from the Mars system ever brought back to Earth. A paper last year4 reported that the surface of Phobos probably contains many particles from Mars, kicked off the surface by meteorite impacts and stuck onto Phobos. If so, then MMX might be able to pick up more than 100 grains on Phobos that originally came from Mars.
Each of those grains could contain minerals that yield information about the material’s age, as well as its magnetic and chemical properties, say Tomohiro Usui and Ryuki Hyodo of JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Sagamihara. “Each grain has geochemical information about the Martian surface environment from the time that grain was formed.” By analysing as many Mars grains as possible, researchers can build up a picture of how the Martian surface environment changed over time.
And by working first with Mars samples in the lab, the MMX team can help prepare NASA and ESA for what lies ahead with Perseverance.
In 2017, technicians lift the mirror assembly of the James Webb Space Telescope using a crane inside a clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
In 2017, technicians lift the mirror assembly of the James Webb Space Telescope using a crane inside a clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the long-awaited — and long-delayed — successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, has been pushed back yet another seven months, NASA said Thursday citing, in part, delays from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The nearly $10 billion project, which scientists hope will see back to the time when the first galaxies were formed following the Big Bang, had been scheduled to launch next March from French Guiana atop an Ariane 5 rocket, but the space agency said it is now aiming for an Oct. 31, 2021, launch date.
“Webb is the world’s most complex space observatory, and our top science priority, and we’ve worked hard to keep progress moving during the pandemic,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. “The team continues to be focused on reaching milestones and arriving at the technical solutions that will see us through to this new launch date next year.”
NASA said disruption to work shifts caused by COVID-19 work-from-home orders and other technical challenges had combined to push back the scheduled launch.
The telescope has experienced numerous delays and cost overruns since the project first went into development in 1996. Initial estimates were that it would cost between $1 billion and $3.5 billion with a possible launch in 2007.
In January, after years of setbacks and ballooning costs, a Government Accountability Office report concluded that the project’s estimated cost was $9.7 billion, an increase of 95%. At the time, the GAO gave NASA a low probability of meeting its then-March 2021 launch date.
Despite the latest delay, NASA’s Webb program director, Gregory Robinson, said it would be able to stay within its development cost cap.
“Based on current projections, the program expects to complete the remaining work within the new schedule without requiring additional funds,” Robinson said. “Although efficiency has been affected and there are challenges ahead, we have retired significant risk through the achievements and good schedule performance over the past year.”
Built by Northrup Grumman and Ball Aerospace, Webb — named after the NASA administrator who was instrumental in overseeing the agency’s Apollo moon program — boasts a 6.5-meter (21-foot) segmented mirror, considerably larger and more sensitive than Hubble’s 2.4 meter (7.9-foot) primary mirror.
Unlike Hubble, which was placed in low-Earth orbit, the Webb Space Telescope will be parked at a position known as Lagrange Point 2 (L2), keeping the Earth between it and the sun. Along with a built-in heat shield, Webb’s position in space is meant to help protect the spacecraft’s instruments for detecting infrared light from the intense heat of the sun.
Also unlike Hubble, which was launched in 1990 with faulty optics that were later fixed in a space shuttle servicing mission and was routinely upgraded by NASA astronauts, the Webb Space Telescope, at about 1 million miles from Earth, will be on its own if anything goes wrong.
Webb will be launched in a folded-up configuration. About 30 minutes into its flight, the spacecraft will begin a complex, weeks-long unfolding process to extend its sun shield and mirror.
by Sandra Erwin —
SpaceX on June 30 is scheduled to make its first attempt to recover the Falcon 9 booster after launching a military satellite.
WASHINGTON — SpaceX’s Falcon 9 to date has performed 86 launches, in 47 of which the rocket’s first stage landed back on earth.
While rocket landings have become the norm for SpaceX launches, none has been done yet in a national security mission.
SpaceX is about to make its first attempt to recover the booster after launching a military satellite. The company on June 30 is scheduled to launch a Global Positioning System satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
This will be SpaceX’s second GPS launch. The first was in December 2018 but that mission used an expendable rocket with no legs or grid fins because the Air Force determined the vehicle could not perform the required mission trajectory and also bring the first stage back.
The second GPS launch was originally contracted to use an expendable rocket as well, but over the past year launch managers at the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center negotiated a deal with SpaceX to allow the company to recover the booster.
SMC agreed to revise some mission requirements so SpaceX could fly back the booster and in exchange the company took off “several million dollars” off the price of the launch, said Walter Lauderdale, chief of the Falcon’s systems operations operation division at SMC’s Launch Enterprise. The original contract awarded to SpaceX in 2017 was for $96.5 million.
Speaking on June 26 during a call with reporters, Lauderdale said it took months of reviews and examinations of Falcon 9 mission data before SMC decided it could make tradeoffs to allow the booster recovery and still get the GPS satellite to the intended location in medium Earth orbit.
Extensive evaluations and some vehicle modifications made by SpaceX “reduced uncertainty in many areas,” said Lauderdale.
Since the December 2018 launch, SMC has gained more confidence that a Falcon 9 can meet the GPS mission needs and bring back the first stage too, said Lauderdale. “For this launch campaign flow we completed 362 verification tasks and evaluated over 230 risks.”
“SpaceX used the experience of our first launch campaign together to improve their processes,” he said. “This led to a 40 percent reduction in the number of questions we presented to them” compared to the first GPS mission.
“We evaluated the information from all SpaceX flights to ensure no cause for concerns for this mission,” Lauderdale said.
But he cautioned that the decision to allow SpaceX to recover the booster on this mission does not mean every national security mission will be suitable for reusable rockets.
SpaceX is providing a new booster for this launch. There are currently no plans to use a previously flown booster in any future GPS launches. SpaceX is under contract to fly three more GPS missions over the next two years.
“I can’t commit to when we’ll be ready” to let SpaceX launch a national security satellite using a previously flown booster, said Lauderdale. “Part of that journey is becoming familiar with how SpaceX is doing their work.”
SMC in May awarded SpaceX a $8.9 million “fleet surveillance” contract that allows government engineers to monitor how SpaceX recovers and refurbishes used boosters.
In the coming weeks DoD will select two launch providers for the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement. Two of the bidders — SpaceX and Blue Origin — will be offering reusable launch systems.
“In Phase 2 we allow providers to bid previously flown systems,” said Lauderdale. “We’re open to whatever industry wants to make available to us.”
Ever wanted to travel to the edge of space but don’t trust explosive rocket technology? Well, you’re in luck! A new startup called Space Perspective wants to take (a lot) your money and send you toward the stars in a big ole’ balloon. Designed to be an alternative to the fledgling rocket-based space tourism industry, the company’s “Spaceship Neptune” capsules will be packed with paying customers and then carried aloft to a height of approximately 100,000 feet.
It’s just one of several entries into the burgeoning space tourism industry, but whether the startup can pull off what it’s promising is anyone’s guess.
According to the company, the trip to space (well, technically the edge of space), will be relatively brief. Two hours will be spent ascending to the intended altitude and then another two hours will be spent returning to Earth. A window of two hours in between ascent and descent will offer travelers some truly breathtaking views of their home planet.
When the trip is over the capsule will come to rest in the Atlantic Ocean, and passengers will be picked up by a ship of some kind and then brought back to shore. It all sounds a little bit odd but then again there’s really no rules when it comes to space tourism… at least not yet.
So, how much will the privilege of not even really making it to space set you back? A mere $125,000 per person. Okay, so it’s not cheap, but it will be a one-of-a-kind experience in an aircraft that doesn’t have to “blast off” from anywhere. The balloons will be deployed from Kennedy Space Center, according to the startup, but they’re still working out the details and finding their way through the FAA’s red tape.
Space Perspective is hardly the only company vying for a slice of the space tourism pie. Blue Origin and SpaceX, among others, have already announced plans to send paying customers into space for brief trips that will cost a whole heck of a lot of cash. In some cases, tickets have already been pre-sold for flights that might not take place for several more years, if they take place at all.
It probably goes without saying, but space tourism will cater to the super-rich, at least for now. Sending things to space is expensive, and raking in a sizable return on the initial investment of rockets (or space balloons) means charging very high prices. At least the rest of us will get to see some pretty cool Instagram selfies, right?
Mike Wehner has reported on technology and video games for the past decade, covering breaking news and trends in VR, wearables, smartphones, and future tech.
Most recently, Mike served as Tech Editor at The Daily Dot, and has been featured in USA Today, Time.com, and countless other web and print outlets. His love of
reporting is second only to his gaming addiction.
June 17, 2020 | 1:46pm
The International Space Station is an incredibly high-tech spacecraft. It’s packed with advanced instruments and the fact that it’s basically a floating science lab should tell you all you need to know about how important it is to NASA, the European Space Agency, and Russia’s Roscosmos. But, like any machine, it needs some love every now and then, and a couple of spacewalks will provide the ISS with some much-needed upgrades.
NASA just released a schedule for its upcoming spacewalks. The first will take place on June 26th and the other will happen on July 1st. During both excursions, astronauts will be tasked with swapping out old and outdated batteries with new, higher-capacity batteries. Both spacewalks will be conducted by NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Robert Behnken.
The International Space Station uses a significant amount of power, and it’s equipped with a solar power array to generate that power. However, because the space station completes over a dozen trips around the Earth every single day, the spacecraft is often shrouded in the shadow cast by our planet.
During those dark moments, the space station maintains its steady power supply by using juice that is saved in its batteries. The old, outdated nickel-hydrogen batteries are in need of replacement, and work on the project began three years ago. It takes several spacewalks to replace the many batteries affixed to the exterior of the ISS with the new lithium-ion versions.
“The spacewalking astronauts will replace aging nickel-hydrogen batteries for one of two power channels on the far starboard truss (S6 Truss) of the station with new lithium-ion batteries that arrived to the station on a Japanese cargo ship last month. The battery replacement work is the culmination of power upgrade spacewalks that began in January 2017.”
Ensuring that the space station has a fully-functional power system is crucial not only to the science being conducted there but also to the wellbeing of the astronauts that live there. The ISS, which has been orbiting Earth since the late 1990s, still has plenty of life left in it thanks to regular upgrades and maintenance.
At present, it’s expected that the International Space Station will continue to operate and host astronauts through at least 2030. As is often the case when it comes to budgets, the space station may see life beyond that point as well, depending on how things shake out.
With the success of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launch this weekend, NASA now has the capability to launch its own astronauts from the US once again — and that means changes are in store for the future of the International Space Station. Soon, a new suite of vehicles could be regularly flying people to the station from the Florida coast, along with the Russian Soyuz rocket that has been solely responsible for taking humans to the outpost since 2011.
This will be a new era of human spaceflight where private vehicles and state-operated vehicles fly along aside one another, getting humans into space, and to the ISS. Here’s how traffic to the space station will evolve as SpaceX and NASA’s other commercial partner, Boeing, start sending people to and from the ISS on a regular basis.
Since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, NASA and Russia’s space corporation, Roscosmos, have been locked in a symbiotic relationship. NASA needed Russia in order to get its own astronauts and international partners to the International Space Station. Russia benefitted from NASA’s money — one seat on Russia’s Soyuz capsule runs NASA upward of $80 million.
That’s been good for the relationship between NASA and Roscosmos. “Mutual dependency actually makes for a pretty good working relationship,” Todd Harrison, the director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), tells The Verge. “By all accounts, everyone I’ve talked to at NASA has said that even as the geopolitical relationship between the United States and Russia has deteriorated, their relationship — when it comes to the ISS — has remained as strong as ever.”
Now that NASA has a brand-new ride, that once codependent relationship between the space agencies is going to evolve. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said that he has had discussions with Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos, about trading seats on each nation’s vehicles moving forward, rather than purchasing them. “If we are going to maintain a complement of both Russian and American astronauts on board, then we need to be willing to launch Russian cosmonauts on Commercial Crew, and they need to be willing to launch American astronauts on the Soyuz,” Bridenstine said. “And my last conversations with Dmitry Rogozin, I think we were both in strong agreement that was necessary for both nations as we move forward.”
Rogozin publicly congratulated NASA and SpaceX on the launch. That positive reaction stands in stark contrast to Rogozin’s comments from 2014, when he publicly decried US sanctions against the Russian space industry and made a dig at NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline,” Rogozin tweeted at the time. (SpaceX CEO Elon Musk joked about this comment after the launch this weekend, arguing that “the trampoline is working.”)
The reality is NASA’s dependency on Russia’s Soyuz rocket gave Roscosmos an important reason to keep its rockets and capsules in production. It brought in a lot of funding, too. “What’s going to change is that Russia is losing a major source of revenue for their space industry,” says Harrison. “As the US will no longer need to buy Soyuz flights.” This year, the budget for Roscosmos is about 176 billion rubles, according to a report in TASS, which equates to $2.77 billion. It’s a fraction of NASA’s budget, which is set at $22.6 billion for 2020. All told, NASA’s purchasing of Soyuz seats accounted for 17 percent of the annual Roscosmos budget in 2018, according to CSIS.
As a result of this new operational shift, it’s possible we could see fewer flights of the Soyuz in the future, Harrison says. “Economically, demographically, they are in a decline,” he says. “And there’s little chance they’re going to pull out anytime soon. So in terms of a space power, they’ve got the technology, but they are going to be able to do less and less with that technology as years go by.”
For now, NASA maintains that its relationship with Roscosmos is strong, and the space agency did purchase one additional seat on a Russian Soyuz rocket for this fall. But after that, the new trading will begin, and it’ll become more clear how that affects the bottom line for Roscosmos.
Though SpaceX was the first to fly astronauts, the company is not the only company working on a private spacecraft for NASA. Boeing is still developing its own crew capsule, the CST-100 Starliner, aimed at doing the same thing as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. But there’s still a way to go before people will be flying on the vehicle.
Boeing conducted an uncrewed test flight of the Starliner in December, which didn’t go to plan. A number of software glitches surfaced during the mission, ultimately preventing the capsule from reaching the space station as expected. The company had to bring the Starliner home early without ever demonstrating its docking capabilities. Boeing will have to redo that flight, without crew on board, sometime this fall.
That means for the year ahead, SpaceX will probably be the only private company sending astronauts to the ISS. But once Boeing demonstrates it can dock the Starliner safely with the space station and then bring the capsule home, the company will also send its own crew into orbit. When that happens, three vehicles capable of carrying NASA astronauts to the station will be in operation, when there was just one before.
With this change, eventually other people might join NASA astronauts on journeys to the space station. Bridenstine has made the main goal of the Commercial Crew Program very clear: return human spaceflight to American soil. But a second goal of the program has been to open up access to space, allowing both SpaceX and Boeing to sell seats on their vehicles to private customers. NASA is also making the space station available for commercial opportunities, something the agency has been strictly against in the past.
SpaceX has already announced plans to send tourists into space on the Crew Dragon. The company is sending four tourists on a trip to orbit. They also plan to send private citizens to the ISS next year for a private company called Axiom, which plans to build its own space station to launch in 2024. And there’s a big possibility that Tom Cruise will fly on the Crew Dragon to film some kind of movie on the ISS in the future.
Whether these kinds of private trips become routine depends on the price. One seat on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon runs NASA about $55 million, while one seat on Boeing’s Starliner runs $90 million. While SpaceX is less expensive, for the average customer, both costs are still well out of reach. “A lot of it depends on how much they can get the cost down for both SpaceX and Boeing,” Harrison says. “SpaceX clearly has its eye on space tourism, in offering flights to folks that can afford it, and that would generate more volume for sure.”
Harrison argues this could go a long way toward commercializing the ISS — using the station for private production, manufacturing, or space tourism. It’s something that NASA is very keen to make happen. Once SpaceX and Boeing start flying regularly, we’ll find out whether other non-space companies are even interested in sending people and property to the space station. It’s possible they may not be. “It’s not clear that the business case will close on these things,” says Harrison. “We’ve got to see experimentation, adaptation, before we really know what’s going to work in terms of commercialization, and what’s not going to work.”
The world knows about President TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: ‘We’ve overreacted a little bit’ to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets ‘unrelentingly liberal’ in ‘fear and loathing’ of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE’s space policy, which includes a program to return astronauts to the moon and eventually send them to Mars, encourage the commercial development of the space frontier, and, most recently, establish the rule of law in space through the Artemis Accords. Trump has also established a new branch of the military, the Space Force, to protect America’s space assets and to keep the peace on the high frontier.
The same cannot be said about former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks Biden set to make risky economic argument against Trump Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel MORE, Trump’s probable opponent in the 2020 presidential election. Aside from a few tantalizing hints gleaned in an article in Medium by Patrick Chase, Biden is practically a blank slate insofar as NASA, commercial space and the Space Force are concerned. Biden, or at least his handlers, owe it to Americans who are deciding whom to vote for to reveal what the former vice president intends to do in space should he be elected.
Biden once opined, during the 2008 campaign, that he thought that China should be a full partner with NASA in its space exploration programs. Considering what the Chinese government did to the world by covering up the coronavirus pandemic, he may want to walk back that opinion.
In a post-debate summary, according to Chase’s article, Biden expressed clear support for robotic space missions. When asked about space exploration with human beings, the then-senator said, “With clear leadership we can do anything, good luck.”
Once Biden became Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip What does Joe Biden believe about NASA, space exploration and commercial space? The star of tomorrow: Temptation and a career in politics reporting MORE’s running mate, he made a speech in Florida that supported commercial space, criticized the Republican candidate Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip What does Joe Biden believe about NASA, space exploration and commercial space? The Memo: Activists press Biden on VP choice MORE for allowing too great a gap between the retirement of the space shuttle and the advent of commercial crew vehicles and pledged an extra $2 billion for NASA to reduce that gap. It should be noted that the gap, mostly occurring during the Obama-Biden administration, will have been nine years.
What would a President Biden do with NASA, commercial space and the Space Force?
The easy way to answer this question is that Biden’s space policy could be Obamaspace 2.0. The Artemis return to the moon program would be cancelled, or at least delayed for so long as to be rendered meaningless. The Space Force would be disbanded and folded back into the Air Force. Many Democrats, especially those who hope to serve in a Biden administration, tend to be against anything that President Trump proposes just because Trump proposed it. The commercial crew program, which has American astronauts shuttled to and from the International Space Station on private-sector spacecraft, would continue because it is seen as an Obama program. Indeed the launch of the Crew Dragon is considered a triumph for the former president’s space policy in some quarters, even though commercial spacecraft was a policy first devised by President George W. Bush.
A President Biden could adopt a proposal advanced by former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver to turn the space agency into a climate change agency, an issue that Team Biden cares about far more than it does space exploration. Garver, who would be on a short list to be NASA Administrator in a Biden administration, has no use for NASA’s plan to conduct deep space exploration with human beings. Garver is currently executive director of a climate change organization called the Earthrise Alliance.
Biden, or at least Team Biden’s people, need to enlighten voters about what the former vice president’s space policy would be should he be elected. The voters deserve to know that they have a choice of two very different futures.
The future proposed by President Trump would incorporate the moon and Earth-approaching asteroids into human civilization’s economic sphere of influence. Not only will the frontier of science be expanded, but access to extraterrestrial resources would spark a space-based industrial revolution that could enrich the home planet in ways beyond evaluation. Astronauts would make those first footprints on Mars. Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskAn old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 What does Joe Biden believe about NASA, space exploration and commercial space? California woman who has Elon Musk’s old number is responding to his messages MORE’s dream of a settlement on the Red Planet would be closer to reality.
The future that Biden is likely to enable is a turning inward, a retreat from the high frontier, ceding the opportunities it presents to China. China, which seeks to dominate space as much as it seeks to extend control over the Earth, would own the future.
A world without limits vs. one that is very limited indeed. That choice, little remarked upon but very important nevertheless, faces American voters in Election 2020 where space policy is concerned.
Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times, and the Washington Post, among other venues.