Joe Biden unlikely to cancel Trump’s Space Force but could use NASA to help in climate crisis fight

President-elect has strong track record of supporting space exploration

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
@graemekmassie
Thursday 12 November 2020 22:05
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The US Space Force has released a recruitment video

Joe Biden is unlikely to cancel Donald Trump’s Space Force but could use NASA to help in the climate crisis fight, say experts.

The future of space exploration was not mentioned in either presidential debate and was not a topic Joe Biden tackled on the campaign trail.

And with the coronavirus pandemic surging in the US and a hobbled economy the president-elect has a string of pressing issues to deal with from 20 January, 2021.

But observers say the president-elect is unlikely to shelve Donald Trump’s new Space Force or cancel ambitious plans to return to the moon and aim for Mars.

Mr Biden could combine the work of Space Force back into the Air Force but as it is now established as the sixth branch of the armed forces it would require congressional legislation to shut it down.

“If Space Force did not already exist, I think Joe Biden probably would not create it,” David Burbach, associate professor of national security affairs at the US Naval War College, told spacenews.com.

"However I think it’s pretty unlikely that Biden would seriously try to eliminate Space Force at this point."

Mr Burbach said that a Republican-controlled Senate would be unlikely to roll back Space Force, and that he did not believe a Democratic controlled one would do so either.

“Things get institutionalised pretty quickly in Washington,” he said.

“I think it would be very difficult to roll back Space Force. 

"We now have officers and enlisted personnel in the Space Force even if they haven’t figured out what to call them.

“Space Force is not the solution that Democrats would have preferred but given that it’s been done, I think the focus will be on trying to make it work effectively.”

Mr Biden could also take a look at the Artemis lunar programme, which aims to put the first woman on the moon by 20204, and was championed by Mr Trump.

The 2024 date was picked to coincide with the final year of a potential second term in office for Mr Trump and was pushed by his NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The day after Mr Biden’s victory Mr Bridenstine announced that he would step down as NASA’s boss to allow the president-elect to chose a trusted adviser.

Mr Biden has now picked an eight-person NASA “agency review team” ahead of his inauguration, which includes two former NASA chief scientists and a former astronaut.

“I suspect that they will continue with Artemis and returning humans back to the moon, but my guess is they might not be on the same timeline as the current administration,” Eric Stallmer, head of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, told Politico.

As Barack Obama’s vice president Mr Biden was part of the administration’s efforts to bring in private partners, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing, to launch cargo and crew to the International Space Station.

Mr Biden publicly congratulated SpaceX in May for its successful launch of the Crew Dragon capsule, the first manned space mission to take off from US soil since 2011.

"I congratulate NASA, SpaceX, and all the hardworking women and men who made today a victory for American innovation and persistence," said Mr Biden.

"This mission represents the culmination of work begun years ago, and which President Obama and I fought hard to ensure would become a reality.”

But there will be areas where Mr Biden’s deviates sharply from Mr Trump, particularly in using NASA to help take on the earth’s climate crisis.

During his run to the White House Mr Biden committed that the US would rededicate itself to fighting climate change.

And this is backed up by the Democratic Party’s platform.

“We believe in continuing the spirit of discovery that has animated NASA’s human space exploration, in addition to its scientific and medical research, technological innovation, and educational mission that allows us to better understand our own planet and place in the universe,” it states.

It also calls for “strengthening NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth observation missions to better understand how climate change is impacting our home planet.”

And this could lead to a larger role for NASA’s Earth science research division, according to observers.

This would be a major departure from Mr Trump’s policy as he tried to cut funding to the division and cancel environmental programmes.

That NASA team uses its network of satellites to study the environmental changes impacting the earth, which the agency recognises on its website as a loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise, and longer and more intense heat waves.

The agency also uses instruments on the International Space Station, airplanes, balloons, ships and on land for researchers to collect data on the earth’s atmosphere, land use and vegetation, ocean currents and temperatures and sea and land ice.

And this could become central to Mr Biden’s efforts to combat climate change and promote clean energy sources.

“If they talk about the Green New Deal, that would rely heavily on NASA to be a part of getting that implemented using technology in orbit,” retired Major General Charles Bolden, who was NASA administrator under Mr Obama, told Politico.

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