• President-elect Joe Biden named the members of his NASA transition team on Tuesday.
• Ellen Stofan, a former NASA chief scientist, will chair the team, which also includes an astrophysicist and a climate researcher.
• Biden will likely push back the timeline of NASA’s Artemis moon mission, extend funding for the International Space Station, and direct more resources back to climate science.
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.
Ellen Stofan speaks at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, on July 22, 2014. NASA Ames Research Center
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.
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.
The Tirari Desert in South Australia, captured via NASA satellite imaging. NASA Earth Observatory
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.
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