What’s the post-election outlook for NASA and planetary exploration?

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President-elect Joe Biden’s area coverage (or lack thereof) has been thought of in quite a lot of shops, together with a latest episode of our podcast, the Space Policy Edition. Broadly, nevertheless, we are able to make some knowledgeable guesses:

  • The 2024 lunar touchdown aim will probably be pushed again and doubtlessly reconsidered all collectively
  • NASA’s Earth Science division will be the priority science division on the area company, and certain see its finances start to develop once more
  • Main applications, such because the SLS, Orion, Business Crew, and the ISS, will proceed
  • Moon-to-Mars will stay the nation’s human spaceflight objectives, although doubtless through a revised pathway

The recently-announced NASA transition team for the incoming administration, led by Dr. Ellen Stofan, who beforehand served as NASA’s Chief Scientist, provides extra proof that the administration will take into account NASA via a scientific lens.

We should always not low cost how a lot is left unknown, nevertheless. The transition crew’s job is to offer perception into the state of the area company, figuring out troubled applications and areas of alternative for the brand new administration. They won’t set coverage. The following NASA Administrator—not Jim Bridenstine, who announced his intention to step down under a Biden administration—is but to be put ahead, a lot much less authorised by the Senate.

Additionally an open query is the destiny of the Nationwide House Council, which has been traditionally productive below the Trump Administration because of the enthusiastic engagement of Vice-President Pence, who serves as chair. To this point, the incoming administration has given no indication as as to if it would proceed the council.

Implications for The Planetary Society’s three core enterprises

NASA has skilled annual budgetary progress since 2014, permitting the company to keep away from making exhausting decisions about which applications to protect and which applications to finish. That period is most definitely over starting in 2021, or a minimum of will change into far more difficult.

Within the occasion that Republicans retain management of the Senate, there will probably be a renewed push for fiscal restraint and home spending cuts, significantly after the federal government’s monumental expenditures this 12 months in response to the coronavirus pandemic. And whereas nobody within the Biden administration or the subsequent congress is towards planetary exploration, the seek for life, or planetary protection, few have made these a excessive precedence, politically-speaking. This isn’t uncommon. Nevertheless it turns into salient within the context of restricted budgets.

NASA’s finances tends to comply with general tendencies. If general spending continues to extend, NASA usually will increase as nicely. If the general budgetary pie shrinks, so does NASA’s slice. If this happens, the Biden administration will doubtless prioritize areas of NASA that intersect with its nationwide coverage objectives: local weather change, the financial system, and training. The problem is on advocates to make sure that planetary exploration, the seek for life, and planetary protection is strongly thought of in gentle of those priorities. We consider the case for these is sort of sturdy, and it is a case The Planetary Society intends to make within the coming months.

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