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Joe Biden just announced his NASA transition team. Here’s what space policy might look like under the new administration.


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President-elect Joe Biden named the members of his transition team for NASA on Tuesday, a key step in determining his administration’s agenda for space exploration. 

Ellen Stofan, who currently leads the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, will lead the team. Stofan served as NASA’s chief scientist from 2013 to 2016.

Other members include Jedidah Isler, an astrophysicist at Dartmouth College who studies supermassive black holes; Bhavya Lal, a space-policy strategist who works with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Waleed Abdalati, another former NASA chief scientist (he served from 2011 to 2012) who’s now at the University of Colorado. 

Aside from naming his team members, Biden hasn’t yet released details about his plans for NASA. But based on the transition team’s makeup, the Obama administration’s priorities, and the 2020 Democratic Party platform, here are four ways Biden might approach space policy.

NASA will probably re-prioritize climate research

As president, Barack Obama prioritized NASA’s climate change research, funding missions to track planetary warming via satellites. Obama requested over $2 billion in funding for NASA’s Earth Sciences division for the 2017 fiscal year, though the division ultimately received $1.92 billion. 

President Donald Trump, by contrast, has consistently requested less funding for the Earth Sciences division than Obama did. The current administration has also said it wants to cut five Earth Sciences missions that mainly focus on climate change research. 

Congress has kept existing Earth science programs in place during Trump’s presidency but allocated slightly less funding to the division overall. NASA’s Earth Science budget for the 2020 fiscal year was $1.78 billion, about $140 million less than in 2017.

Biden’s administration is likely to attempt to reverse the budget cuts and strengthen Earth science research. The move would align with the 2020 platform of the Democratic Party, which promised to support NASA’s “Earth observation missions to better understand how climate change is impacting our home planet.”

Biden’s transition-team appointment of Abdalati, whose research focuses on using satellites to understand changes to the Earth’s ice cover, is another sign of the president-elect’s commitment to this issue. 

Still, if Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Biden’s ability to direct more funding to NASA’s Earth Science division could be limited. 

Biden may extend funding for the space station

Under Trump, the government was set to stop funding the International Space Station by 2025, then hand control of the orbiting laboratory over to private companies after that.

Biden will likely reverse this decision, according to Reuters. Instead, the president-elect plans to propose a funding extension for the ISS, though it’s not yet known for how long.

Continued federal funding of the space station could benefit companies like Boeing, which currently receives $225 million a year from its contract for ISS operations support. Slowing down the timeline could also give companies more time to design and plan for privately run space stations. For instance, Axiom Space, a private aerospace company headquartered in Texas, has a contract with NASA to build its own attachment to the space station. 

Once the ISS retires, …read more

Source:: Business Insider

      

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