U.S. President Joe Biden gave NASA's acting administrator warm congratulations for the successful landing of the life-seeking Perseverance rover on Mars Thursday (Feb. 18).
"Hey Steve, congratulations man," said Biden in a call from the Oval Office in Washington, D.C., backdropped by numerous pictures and a statue of American labor leader César Chávez. His call was posted on the White House YouTube channel Saturday (Feb. 20).
"I'm so proud of you guys, and tell your folks down there [in California] I watched it with bated breath, like millions of other people around the world," Biden said to acting administrator Steve Jurczyk, who took the call at the rover mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Jurczyk is one of 34 acting leaders that Biden appointed shortly after the Democratic president took office Jan. 20.
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"I agree sir, it was an amazing team and another amazing accomplishment," Jurczyk said in part of his response. "Thank you so much for your support and your congratulations. I absolutely will pass it on to the team … a lot of what we do is show the United States and the world, the country and the world, what is possible."
Biden also tweeted congratulations to the team on landing day. "Today proved once again that with the power of science and American ingenuity, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility," he said in part. Other notable supporters on landing day tweeting about Perseverance were vice-president Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden and several members of Congress from both parties.
Perseverance, the heart of NASA's $2.7 billion Mars 2020 mission, was approved under then-president Barack Obama in 2012 and launched toward the Red Planet in July 2020 under the administration of president Donald Trump.
Perseverance is also a keystone in NASA's long-term plans to launch a sample return mission to Mars that has not been fully funded yet. The rover will cache the most promising samples it finds for a future spacecraft to pick up and relay back to Earth for more detailed examination, with the mission launching perhaps as early as this decade.
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The Biden administration recently committed to continuing Trump's Artemis human moon-landing program in the administration's crucial first 100 days, marking a rare commitment by a new president to keep going with a major astronaut program from the last administration.
But Jurczyk told Ars Technica on Thursday that the Trump-era 2024 landing deadline for Artemis "may no longer be a realistic target due to the last two years of [NASA] appropriations, which did not provide enough funding to make 2024 achievable."
Notably, Congress did not fully fund NASA's request for Artemis' human landing system in the fiscal year 2021 appropriation, and earlier this month, the agency quietly put its search for the company to build the lander on hold. Biden has not committed yet to a deadline for putting boots on the moon; if not 2024, some bipartisan members of Congress floated a possible 2028 extension back in January 2020.
In an interview Thursday with SpaceNews, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) – ranking member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA funding – said he hoped the Perseverance landing would help NASA garner more support for its planetary exploration plans.
"We are certainly interested in supporting further planetary exploration. We will have to balance that once again, as we do all the time, with the various missions of NASA," Moran said. "I think that what happens at Mars does have a consequence to what happens at the moon, and vice versa. They go together."
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