Biden Sees Perseverance and Mars Sample Return as U.S.-Europe Unifiers

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 is the second time in two days Biden has talked about Perseverance, calling Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk yesterday to extend congratulations on its successful landing. Perseverance is the first of three U.S.-European missions that eventually will return samples of Mars to Earth.

NASA released more images taken by Perseverance today, including one that many are already calling iconic.  It shows the Perseverance rover hanging from the “Skycrane” just before it lands on the surface. Wisps of Martian dust kicked up by Skycrane’s engines can be seen on the ground. The Skycrane released the rover when it was very close to the surface and flew off, taking the cables with it, and impacting at a distant location, its job done.


Yesterday, Biden phoned Jurczyk to congratulate the Perseverance — or “Percy” — team and said he wants to thank them in person, too.  He also tweeted his appreciation.

Today, he spoke to the 2021 Virtual Munich Security Conference where he stressed his intent to revitalize “America’s network of alliances and partnerships that have made the world safer for all people.”  He sees democracy as under attack. “We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.”  Saying Europe and the United States need to work together to overcome challenges, he used Mars exploration as an example of where “we’ve done it before.”

Source: White House transcript.

The European Space Agency (ESA), an international organization with 22 European member countries, has its own Mars program and right now is building the ExoMars rover with Russia for launch in 2022.

But ESA and individual countries, such as France and Germany, have long worked with NASA on Mars missions, too. Earlier this week, Vice President Kamala Harris and  French President Emmanuel Macron discussed France’s participation in the U.S.-built Perseverance mission. France provided the SuperCam instrument that will analyze the chemistry and mineralogy of Martian rocks and soil.

NASA-ESA cooperation will take a major leap forward with the Mars Sample Return mission, however, with the two agencies jointly building two spacecraft — the Sample Fetch Rover and Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) — not just providing  instruments.

Perseverance will collect samples of the Mars surface in 43 cigar-shaped containers and leave them on the surface. The Fetch Rover will retrieve the containers and take them back to a lander that has a rocket to launch them into orbit around Mars where they will be transferred into the ERO for the trip back to Earth. It is a highly technologically complex mission. NASA and ESA hope to launch the two spacecraft in 2026, which would require an immediate influx of money.

Biden has said little about the space program so far and everyone is on tenterhooks waiting to find out what his priorities are and how much he’s willing to request from Congress to pay for them. His words today certainly signal an interest in robotic Mars exploration, but whether that is in addition to or instead of other NASA activities will not be known until he sends his FY2022 budget request to Congress in coming weeks.

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