How will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon?

How will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon?
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The chaos that erupted in Afghanistan following President Joe BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Did President Biden institute a vaccine mandate for only half the nation's teachers? Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE’s withdrawal of troops should have nothing to do with NASA’s Artemis return to the moon program. The two would not seem to be linked in any way. However, considering that Biden seems to have immolated his presidency by his Afghan retreat, his ability to affect anything, not to mention America’s renewed effort to return to the moon, is in question.

An active presidency can help to ensure the success of a project such as Artemis. Both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson worked tirelessly to keep the Apollo program on track. President Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterAmerica needs a new strategy for Pacific Island Countries Afghanistan and the lessons that history does not offer What's at stake — and in play — for the midterms MORE intervened to save the space shuttle. President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBusiness coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader Obamas, Bushes and Clintons joining new effort to help Afghan refugees MORE rescued the space station from certain cancellations at a crucial time. Former NASA Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineSpaceX all-civilian crew returns to Earth, successfully completing 3-day mission SpaceX all-civilian crew calls Tom Cruise from space How will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon? MORE once suggested that during the Trump presidency then-Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard Pence'Justice for J6' organizer calls on demonstrators to respect law enforcement Ethics group files complaint against former Pence chief of staff Marc Short Pence aiming to raise M ahead of possible 2024 run: report MORE could be counted upon to intervene when the space agency’s budget was in trouble in Congress. 

On the flip side, after President George W. Bush announced the Constellation program, he did not mention it again. The second attempt to return to the moon went off the rails only to be canceled by President Barack Obama. Neglect or even active hostility toward a high-profile space program can mean its death.


No one is going to do anything just because Biden wants it to happen. Afghanistan has called into question — even to his erstwhile friends — his ability to make sound decisions. Biden’s continued zombie presidency is likely to be a detriment to getting more funding for NASA, expanding and strengthening the Artemis Alliance, and keeping the return to the moon on schedule. 

That is not to say that Artemis is doomed. NASA Administrator Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonHow will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon? Biden to talk Russia, anti-corruption with Ukraine's president Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos wages lawfare on NASA and SpaceX MORE, a former senator, has a lot of respect in Congress on both sides of the aisle. He is a politician of some experience. Nelson was hired because he was a politician.

Bridenstine and former NASA administrator, astronaut, and Marine Gen. Charles Bolden can be counted on to support Nelson, as was promised during the Florida Democrat’s swearing-in ceremony. Together they constitute a space triumvirate as powerful, in its own way, as any that ruled ancient Rome.

As an added note, perhaps Bridenstine or Bolden could be named as a special envoy for space. If John KerryJohn Kerry Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington Biden confirms 30 percent global methane reduction goal, urges 'highest possible ambitions' 9/11 and US-China policy: The geopolitics of distraction MORE can jet around the world whipping up climate change policy, a more respected public servant could do the same, but to expand the Artemis Alliance and to buttress international space cooperation.

Speaking of aerospace professionals, Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator in charge of human space flight, is experienced and well respected. Her management skills were crucial in getting the commercial crew program off the ground.


One cannot forget that SpaceX’s Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskSpaceX all-civilian crew returns to Earth, successfully completing 3-day mission SpaceX sending first all-civilian crew into orbit Elon Musk's SpaceX vs. the environmentalists MORE has been charged with developing the Human Landing System (HLS) to take Americans down to the lunar surface. His record in making technological miracles is well documented. The only thing standing in Musk’s way is an absurd lawsuit filed by his main rival, Blue Origin’s Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosSpaceX launches first all-civilian orbit crew into space Tucker Carlson says he lies when 'I'm really cornered or something' Feehery: Not this way MORE.

The fact that Artemis enjoys bipartisan support in Congress, with the exception of the Sen. Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, cannot be discounted, either. Nelson and company need not spend a lot of time selling the concept of Artemis. They will still have to work to see it adequately funded and to head off attempts to micromanage the program, such as undertaken by former Rep. Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornHow will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon? Why does Rep. Johnson oppose NASA's commercial human landing system? The US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it MORE (D-Okla.).

In short, the Artemis program is likely to survive and even thrive despite Biden. Certainly, having someone with more energy and competence in the White House, who could weigh in from time to time to support the most important space project since the Apollo program, would have been better. But that role will be reserved for the president due to be elected in 2024, whoever he or she happens to be.

As for Biden, the best that can be expected will be for him to stay out of the way and let Artemis proceed. He might be tempted to try to use the Artemis program to distract from the debacle in Afghanistan. History suggests that he will only mess that one up, too.

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,” and, most recently, “Why is America Going Back to the Moon?” 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.