The Biden administration endorses NASA’s Artemis, the Space Force
One of the nagging questions that have haunted space enthusiasts with the change of administrations has been what President Biden will do with the Artemis program to return to the moon as well as the Space Force.
One might be forgiven for feeling some concern. Biden has been quite diligent in erasing Trump priorities ranging from energy production to immigration policy at the stroke of a pen. He was part of the Obama administration that abruptly cancelled the Constellation program.
Now, all doubt has been erased. The Biden administration will not only continue the Space Force, but also the Artemis program. The two historic initiatives started by President Trump will survive into the future.
Ars Technica relates how the Biden administration was driven to express its full-throated support for Artemis. First, a group of Democratic senators sent a letter to Biden asking that he fully support the Artemis program, especially the commercial Human Landing System (HLS) initiative. The senators offered a variety of arguments including science, economic renewal in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the Chinese challenge in space.
After having been asked about Artemis in a previous press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki offered the Biden administration’s full support for sending American astronauts back to the moon and eventually on to Mars. The Ars Technica story suggests that Psaki has been briefed by Biden’s science advisors. So, she was speaking with the voice of the entire Biden administration.
The revelation that the Biden administration supports the Space Force as well came about by a more oblique path. When first asked about the Space Force, Psaki made light of the question, perhaps under the impression that it was about the Netflix satirical TV show and not the very real American military service branch. The New York Post reported that congressional Republicans reacted in full fury, with demands that Psaki apologize and suggestions that the Biden administration was not taking the threat posed by China in space seriously.
The next day, clearly chastened, Psaki offered the Biden administration’s full support for the Space Force as well.
How was it that two Trump space initiatives came to be accepted by the Biden administration, led by a president who was elected mainly on the basis of his not being Trump? The answer is that both the civilian and military space initiatives have bipartisan support in the Congress.
We can especially ascribe the support for Artemis to the tireless efforts of former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to create support for the deep space exploration program on both sides of the aisle. From the very start of his tenure, after a nomination process marked with partisan rancor, Bridenstine emphasized that Artemis needed to be supported by both Democrats and Republicans if it was to survive and prosper.
With Senate Democrats urging full-funding for Artemis and the Biden administration endorsing the program, Bridenstine’s mission has been well accomplished. Now ensconced back in his beloved Oklahoma, raking it in with his new private equity job, Bridenstine can feel the satisfaction of a job well done. Artemis has survived the change of administrations largely because of his efforts.
The Space Force’s journey from being the butt of jokes to a serious branch of the military did not have an obvious single champion. It helped that the legislation establishing the new service branch was voted for by both Republicans and Democrats. The Space Force has moved rapidly to define itself and its mission, basically to dominate space as the fourth battlespace after the land, sea and air. That the United States has assets in space that need defending has become apparent to almost everyone.
The devil is in the details, especially where Artemis is concerned. Biden has yet to choose a permanent NASA administrator, though word is that he is looking for a woman. The adage that personnel determines policy applies to who is chosen to lead the space agency as much as anything else.
The other question is when will the next man and the first woman walk on the moon? The Trump-era target of 2024 is almost certainly out. Will the next moon landing take place in 2025, 2026 or some other, later date? Whatever the case, it can now be safely presumed that U.S. astronauts will walk on the lunar surface at some point in the future.
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.