Feb 16, 2021 - Science

Biden takes Trump's lead in space

Illustration of two hands passing off a Saturn V rocket as if it were a baton.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Biden administration is staying the course set out by the Trump administration when it comes to space, at least for now.

Why it matters: Administrations often abandon their predecessors' goals in favor of new ones when they come to power. That kind of "moonshot whiplash" can leave NASA stuck on Earth because it takes consistency between administrations to accomplish large exploration goals.

Driving the news: Earlier this month, the Biden administration affirmed its plans to continue the Artemis program to land the first woman and next man on the surface of the Moon.

  • The administration also threw its weight behind the Space Force, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki saying the new military branch has the "full support of the Biden administration."
  • "I'm very proud of the Biden administration for sticking with these very important measures," Jim Bridenstine, Trump's NASA administrator, told me. "My goal from day one was to create a program that was sustainable, that would be able to cross from one administration to the next."
  • The Biden administration is also re-emphasizing the importance of climate change research at NASA, appointing Gavin Schmidt as the agency's acting senior climate adviser, a new role expected to help lead NASA's climate research.

Yes, but: While some political appointments have been made at NASA, the administration has yet to put forth a nomination for NASA administrator, a key position that will drive the course of the space agency.

  • The first Artemis mission was expected to get people to the surface of the Moon by 2024, but that's looking less likely now, and some are recommending that the landing date be moved back for safety and funding reasons.
  • Experts are also wondering how space policy and directives centered on space will be managed under this administration, due to the possible dissolution of the National Space Council.

Between the lines: So far, many of Biden's moments of space news have been due to questions from the press, not statements from the administration driving the news themselves.

  • "They've not taken a lot of interest in space," unlike the Trump administration, Todd Harrison, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told me. "This wasn't part of the campaign, and it's apparently not something that they've taken time to get up to speed on and really dive into."

What to watch: Even though space appears to be on the radar for Biden now, the real test will be how much funding he proposes in the administration's budget.

  • "You can say all the great words in the world about Artemis," the Planetary Society's Casey Dreier told me. "You can say all the great things you want about NASA, but when it comes down to it, NASA needs the resources to succeed."
Go deeper