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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.

G20 coal impasse previews fraught UN climate summit

A man tends to vegetables in a field as emissions rise from nearby cooling towers of a coal-fired power station in Tongling, Anhui province, China, Jan. 16, 2019. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

G20 environment ministers ended talks without agreeing to phase out domestic coal-fired power generation and funding for such plants abroad, a deadlock that foreshadows difficult negotiations looming for this fall's critical climate summit.

Driving the news: Officials who met in Naples, Italy, on Thursday and Friday could not find consensus language on the use and financing of the most carbon-emitting fuel.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

At least 125 dead in western India after landslides, monsoon flooding

Vehicles driving through a flooded street in Mumbai on July 19. Photo: Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

At least 125 people are dead after monsoon rains triggered landslides in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, authorities said on Saturday, according to Reuters.

State of play: Downpours lasting several days have impacted hundreds of thousands of people, as major rivers are in danger of breaking through their banks.