NASA astronaut Jessica Meir on a spacewalk. Photo: NASA

Current and former astronauts are speaking out on social media and in interviews in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against police violence.

Why it matters: Astronauts are NASA's public face and usually avoid politically charged topics in public, but as the agency's astronauts have more direct means of communication to the public, those lines are beginning to blur.

  • "While they still need to avoid becoming overtly political (as laws govern what civil servants can legally say and do), we have seen some astronauts take to their online channels to become more vocal in the issues of the day," Robert Pearlman, space historian and editor of CollectSPACE.com, told Axios.

Details: Active astronauts Jessica Meir, Victor Glover and others have all publicly posted either explicitly or implicitly supporting the movement.

  • Meir tweeted a photo of a black square for Blackout Tuesday, a collective action drawing attention to police brutality and racism.
  • Glover explained to a person on Twitter why he can't just stick to space during difficult times like these: "Remember who is doing space. People are. As we address extreme weather and pandemic disease, we will understand and overcome racism and bigotry so we can safely and together do space."
  • Former astronaut Leland Melvin shared a powerful story with the Planetary Society about an encounter with the police in high school that could have derailed his life and how he couldn't dream of being an astronaut during the Moon landing in the 1960s because he didn't see anyone who looked like him involved in it.

Background: "The day I showed up in Houston, they basically said rule No. 1 was don't become famous," former astronaut Michael López-Alegria, who began his training as an astronaut in 1992, told Axios. "That's clearly not the case anymore."

  • According to López-Alegria, the reasoning behind that rule hinged on the idea that if an astronaut was out there speaking their mind and bringing controversy to the agency, they aren't a team player.
  • The perception was that if astronauts courted fame, then they may miss out on possible flight opportunities.

What to watch: NASA's astronaut corps is becoming more diverse, and with that will likely come new conversations — many of them in public — about how the agency's next generation of explorers should engage with the public.

Go deeper: Space industry responds to protests against racism, police brutality

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Sep 23, 2020 - Science

Blue Origin to launch rocket Thursday

New Shepard taking flight. Photo: Blue Origin

Blue Origin is planning to launch its 13th uncrewed flight of its suborbital New Shepard system on Thursday, the Jeff Bezos-founded company announced.

Why it matters: The flight will mark the first New Shepard test of 2020. This system last flew in December 2019.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 32,471,119 — Total deaths: 987,593 — Total recoveries: 22,374,557Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 7,032,524 — Total deaths: 203,657 — Total recoveries: 2,727,335 — Total tests: 99,483,712Map.
  3. States: "We’re not closing anything going forward": Florida fully lifts COVID restaurant restrictions — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tests positive for coronavirus.
  4. Health: Young people accounted for 20% of cases this summer.
  5. Business: Coronavirus has made airports happier places The expiration of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance looms.
  6. Education: Where bringing students back to school is most risky.
Mike Allen, author of AM
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden pushes unity message in new TV wave

A fresh Joe Biden ad, "New Start," signals an effort by his campaign to make unity a central theme, underscoring a new passage in his stump speech that says he won't be a president just for Democrats but for all Americans.

What he's saying: The ad — which began Friday night, and is a follow-up to "Fresh Start" — draws from a Biden speech earlier in the week in Manitowoc, Wisconsin: