May 28, 2022

Return to the Moon and global warming: in space, Joe Biden masters the art of synthesis


FOCUS – The US administration has proposed an increased 2022 budget for NASA. Priorities are changing.

There is, in the oval office invested by Joe Biden, a “decorative” detail that does not deceive. On a piece of furniture, to the right of the bust of Harry S. Truman, surrounded by the complete collection of the writings of George Washington, a small gray rock is placed. This fragment, a priori insignificant, is a 3.5 billion year old moon stone, brought back to earth in December 1972 by the astronauts of the Apollo 17 mission. This simple object reassured observers about the space ambitions of the new president American.

The Lunar Stone Fragment, in the Oval Office. Reuters

Throughout the campaign, Biden, who took his card from the Democratic Party in 1969, the year the man took the first moon step, had remained silent on the issue. He simply saw fit to salute the successful Space X flight to the international station last May. Since then, he has been enthusiastic about the successful landing of the Perseverance rover, hailing the “power of science ”.

The Biden administration has just presented Congress with its 2021 budget requests for federal agencies. It is in this exercise that we scrutinize the cuts and extensions requested, before the consideration of Congress. Thus, we learn more about Joe Biden’s ambitions for NASA. The budget requested by the American president amounts to 24.7 billion dollars. The body should be able to avail itself of resources up 1.5 billion, or + 6.4%.

Satellites in the face of global warming

Democrats, especially under Obama, had put a stop to prestige missions, relates Isabelle Sourbès-Verger, specialist in questions of geopolitics of space and space policies at the CNRS. It had all been put together by Trump. Logically enough, Biden goes back to the classic fundamentals of space, a bit like the time of Al Gore. ” Vice-president of Bill Clinton in the 1990s, the latter launched ambitious scientific Earth observation programs. The new president sees space as a way to study “pressing issues of climate science.“This goes for example through the launch”of a new generation of satellites“. He therefore asks for an increase in the budget devoted to Earth Sciences of 250 million euros compared to last year. Contrary to Trump who had never ceased to want to reduce him to grief. “NASA had an important program to understand the climate, the sea-ocean-atmosphere exchanges. Trump, who is climate skeptic, immediately put a cross on it. NASA even had to change the name of some of its projects to pass them through to Congress ”, relates Isabelle Sourbès-Verger, specialist in questions of geopolitics of space and space policies at the CNRS.

Support for the Artemis program

Biden “makes an attempt at synthesis, remark Jean-Claude Worms, director of the international committee on space research (COSPAR). He wants to put the package on the fight against climate change. But he also wants the United States to remain the benchmark for further exploration.“. Indeed, the new president chose continuity for the Artemis program: the one which plans to send astronauts back to the moon by 2024. It was the great project of Trump, who had even tried to devote half to it. of the NASA budget. “On this subject, Biden is stuck, a little forced to continue. Despite everything, it will still be late», Notes Isabelle Sourbes-Verger. However, the mission is adorned with a “progressive” touch. Nasa said in the wake that a colored astronaut will set foot on the moon for the first time. “The emphasis is on this for communication reasons, but there are astronauts of diverse backgrounds for a long time. If the program hadn’t stopped in the 1970s, it would have been on the Moon for a long time», Decrypts Jean-Claude Worms.

Joe Biden finally shows strong support for several cutting-edge scientific projects. He cites the mission to send samples of Martian rock to Earth. Or, Europa Clipper, a probe on the frozen moon of Jupiter, and Dragonfly, the one to Titan. It also encourages the continued construction of the Nancy Grace-Roman Space telescope. This tool, designed to prove the existence of dark matter and identify exoplanets, was in Trump’s sights. He had tried to hang him twice, judging him to be non-priority. Congress had continued to allocate funds to it.

The Democratic administration is not abandoning the military aspect of space either, while the Chinese are redoubling their ambition. The “Space Force”, a new branch of the Army, proudly created by Donald Trump, is here to stay, the White House said in early February.

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