The Space AdvocateMar 10, 2021

The Space Advocate Newsletter, March 2021

From the Chief Advocate

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The daring landing of the Perseverance rover captured the hearts of billions of people around the world, though perhaps none so important as President Joe Biden's.

After watching the landing live, he called up NASA not once, but twice. First to speak with the acting administrator and second to the entire team at JPL. More importantly, he highlighted Mars Sample Return as an example of positive European-American cooperation to a meeting of allies last month. A vigorous Mars Sample Return program under a Biden administration now appears quite likely. All it took was a spectacular landing on Mars.

And NASA needs all the good press it can get. A recent poll by Morning Consult showed decidedly mixed attitudes towards space exploration in the U.S. While most Americans want the country to lead in space, they considered sending astronauts to the Moon or Mars to be low priorities for the space agency. At the top? Climate change research and protection from dangerous near-Earth objects.

In more prosaic matters, Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) announced that he will not run for re-election in 2022. While there are many supporters of the Space Launch System in Congress, none are more fervent than Sen. Shelby, and his tireless political support for that program and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center will be hard to match.

The SLS has yet to complete its test firings and will likely slip into 2022. But that wasn't the only rocket to fall behind schedule. Blue Origin, now spending upwards of a billion dollars per year, announced a 2-year delay to its New Glenn rocket. Why? The company blamed losing a contract with the Department of Defense, which chose SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance for its launch services.

And speaking of SpaceX, I hosted Eric Berger, author of a new book about their early effort to launch the Falcon 1 into orbit, on this month's Space Policy Edition. Don't miss it.

Until 48.9 million miles from now (sun relative)...

Casey Dreier
Chief Advocate

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Space Policy Highlights

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Solar System

Biden Sees Perseverance and Mars Sample Return as U.S.-Europe Unifiers ( "President Biden told European allies today that the Mars Perseverance and Mars Sample Return missions are examples of how the United States and Europe can work together and “secure our futures together.” It was the second time in two days Biden talked about Perseverance, having previously called Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk to extend congratulations on its successful landing."


Nearly Half the Public Wants the U.S. to Maintain Its Space Dominance. Appetite for Space Exploration Is a Different Story ( "Most U.S. adults don’t see sending humans — no matter if they’re astronauts or civilians — to the moon or Mars as a high space priority, new polling data suggests. Despite this, much of the public does want the United States to maintain its global dominance in the area."


Richard Shelby, senator with major influence over NASA, to retire ( "Shelby is best known in the space community for his role shaping NASA programs as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee...Shelby’s support for programs like SLS has won him support from much of the space industry. However, that backing of SLS and criticism of commercial initiatives has made him less welcome in other corners of the industry."


Blue Origin’s massive New Glenn rocket is delayed for years. What went wrong? ( "Not only did New Glenn not launch in 2020, last week Blue Origin said it would not launch until the fourth quarter of 2022, at the earliest. As part of its announcement, Blue Origin also did not take much blame for the rocket's delay—instead, the company blamed the delay mostly on a potential customer, the US Department of Defense. 'Who does that?' asked one former employee of the company. 'That excuse makes no sense.'"

Top image: President Joe Biden speaking with the Perseverance team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on 4 March 2021.

Planetary Radio: Space Policy Edition

Planetary Radio Space Policy Edition logo

SpaceX's Early, Desperate Days (with Eric Berger)

The SpaceX of today reuses rockets and launches people into space. But 15 years ago, the future of the company was in doubt as its Falcon 1 rocket repeatedly failed to reach orbit. Eric Berger, Senior Space Editor at Ars Technica, joins the show to discuss his new book, Liftoff, which chronicles these early, formative years of the company in which it nearly collapsed.