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Biden Space

Sleepwalking Through Space Policy At NASA

By Keith Cowing
January 3, 2022
Filed under
Sleepwalking Through Space Policy At NASA

International Space Station Operations Formally Extended Through 2030
“NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced today the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to extend International Space Station (ISS) operations through 2030, and to work with our international partners in Europe (ESA, European Space Agency), Japan (JAXA, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Canada (CSA, Canadian Space Agency), and Russia (State Space Corporation Roscosmos) … “
Amid tension with Russia, Biden administration wants to extend the life of the International Space Station, Washington Post
“Earlier this year, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency, told CNN that it was committed to the station. “This is a family, where a divorce within a station is not possible,” he said.”
Ukraine tensions: Putin tells Biden new sanctions could rupture ties, BBC
“Russia’s Vladimir Putin has warned his US counterpart Joe Biden that imposing new sanctions over Ukraine could lead to a complete breakdown in relations. In a phone call late on Thursday, the Russian president said such sanctions would be a “colossal mistake”. Mr Biden, meanwhile, told Mr Putin that the US and its allies would respond decisively to any invasion of Ukraine.”
Keith’s note: Am I the only one who thinks it was just a little strange that the White House waited until late in the day on New Year’s Eve – probably the slowest news day in the entire year where no one is really paying attention – to announce this? Why bury it like this? They couldn’t have announced it before Christmas when maybe a few more people were paying attention? Just a few weeks ago NASA announced three large contracts to explore commercial follow-ons to the ISS – in addition to another already in place. Continuity anyone?
You’d think that someone was thinking about how to knit this all together into a cohesive policy. Guess again. Space Team Biden seems to have no idea how to roll out its own good news these days via NASA or anywhere else. After all, they rented child actors when no actual human children could be found for a photo op with the VP. The National Space Council still exists. Hooray. What does it do? No one seems to know. Or care.
But on to the bigger picture. This whole 2030 thing sounds a little hollow given current events. Happy talk squirted out on a news graveyard day while people elsewhere are building tinderboxes that could make it all moot – during an unrelenting global pandemic. Up until now the ISS has managed to escape nearly all collateral damage from terrestrial politics – to its credit. Maybe the way that we seem to be able to work together in space with our almost-enemies can teach us something about how to get along better on Earth. Small wonder that many people think that the ISS program is worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize. Oddly, despite Earthly brinksmanship politics, we can work with Russia up there. But due to the same ground-based politics we can’t work with China with whom things are equally dysfunction and out of whack. Am I missing something?
With everything in perpetual and instantly-accelerated crazy mode these days, these throwaway buzz words by Nelson, Rogozin et al could be eclipsed in a moment by events spiraling out of control in Ukraine. Or Taiwan. Or both. Its almost as if the staffers who wrote this stuff do not read the actual news about the actual world. But there’s no reason to not try and be optimistic at a time when optimism is in such short supply. Maybe space can do that. If NASA and this Administration truly do see the value in an expanded, inclusive, and global human presence in space – and that perhaps this operates on a higher plane than the politics of the day – then perhaps they could say so more prominently and more often – in context with reality.
My point? Not a new one. NASA has an astonishing brand presence with a global reach. Yet they barely understand the true nature of this untapped soft power resource at their disposal or how to use it – domestically or internationally. Moreover, NASA PAO recycles the same tired talking points about the value of the space station that I put on Powerpoint charts at NASA 30 years ago. NASA is perpetually out of touch with what the real world sees as important and think that pretty space pictures are the answer to public disinterest. Newsflash: the only people paying attention to Webb right now are a dozen or so space reporters. No pretty pictures.
Anyway, this latest rant of mine is all pointless since, when it comes to interacting with the external world, NASA only has transmitters and no receivers. That said, in my regular refrain, if NASA does not take its own programs seriously enough to pay attention then why should anyone else?
I can’t wait to see how NASA responds to an orbital Starship flight while their SLS sits in the VAB waiting for broken parts to be replaced.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.