Biden lauds NASA team for giving US 'dose of confidence'

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President Joe Biden congratulates NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mars 2020 Perseverance team for successfully landing on Mars during a virtual call in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Thursday congratulated the NASA team responsible for last month’s successful landing of an six-wheeled rover on Mars and for giving the country a “dose of confidence” at a moment when the nation's reputation as a scientific leader has been tattered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden speaking in video conference call with the leadership of space agency’s jet propulsion laboratory team expressed awe over the Feb. 18 landing of Perseverance.

Perseverance, the biggest, most advanced rover ever sent by NASA, became the ninth spacecraft since the 1970s to successfully land on Mars, traveling some 300 million miles in nearly seven months, as part of an ongoing quest to study whether there was once life on the planet.

“It’s so much bigger than landing Perseverance on Mars," Biden told members of the NASA team. “It’s about the American spirit. And you brought it back”

Biden watched on television as Perseverance touched down on Mars last month and called NASA’s Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk to pass on his congratulations to the Perseverance team. But Biden said he wanted to speak directly to the team, which he said deserved credit not only for the astronomical feat but also with boosting the United States' reputation at a moment when it's sorely needed.

He recalled that another nation's leader recently told him that the U.S., once seen as competent, saw its standing fall with its response to coronavirus pandemic.

But Biden, who has made stemming a pandemic that has killed nearly 520,000 Americans his top priority, said that the Mars landing offered the nation a bit of inspiration at a moment when it's sorely needed.

“We can land a rover on Mars, we can beat a pandemic," Biden said. “And with science, hope and vision, there’s not a damn thing we can’t do as a country.”