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As Tesla heads toward solar orbit, Senators seek expanded path for terrestrial electric vehicle tax credits

Yesterday was a big day for electric vehicles. One was shot into a solar orbit. Terrestrially, a group of U.S. Senators launched an effort to extend tax credits for electric and alternative fuel vehicles.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch Feb 6 2018 Cape Canaveral screenshot
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy successfully launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Tuesday, Feb. 6. Click image to watch the full video.

SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, on Tuesday, Feb. 6, successfully launched one of the heaviest rockets ever. For those of us of a certain age, the Cape Canaveral lift off brought to mind the powerful Saturn V rocket that propelled NASA's Apollo astronauts to the moon in the 1960 and '70s and then sent the Skylab space station into orbit in 1973.

The Falcon Heavy launch was notable for, among other things, marking the first time since the start of the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that a private company has managed to build and successfully launch the world's most powerful rocket.

And in keeping with Musk's proclamation that work, even that as important as expanding space exploration, should also be fun, the Tesla founder used the Falcon Heavy to send his personal high-dollar electric roadster bearing name to infinity and beyond.

Starman in Tesla in Space still image
Click image for a live view of Starman "driving" through space. Other views of his space travels are here and here.

OK, the red Tesla sports car, with a space-suit wearing mannequin dubbed Starman behind the wheel who's listening to a loop of David Bowie's "Space Oddity (Major Tom)," is not on the Buzz Lightyear path. Rather, he's settled into a long, elliptical orbit around the sun.

Tax help for land-based electric autos: Meanwhile, some federal lawmakers think it's time more of us here on terra firma join Starman in piloting an electric vehicle.

The best way to get us into such eco-friendly wheels, according to 14 Democratic Senators, is to extend for 10 years the tax credits for electric and alternative fuel vehicles and infrastructure in the tax extenders bill that Congress is expected to consider later this year.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and his Senate colleagues on Feb. 6 sent a letter to Democratic Leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer (New York) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (California) and Ranking tax-writing committee members Sen. Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Rep. Richard Neal (Massachusetts) urging them to not let the electric auto tax credit expire "just as these vehicles are starting to gain a foothold into the market."

Eco and businesses benefits: Transportation is now the largest sector of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, recently surpassing the electricity sector, according to the letter.

However, fully electric and alternative fuel vehicles currently comprise less than 1 percent of the U.S. vehicle market, according to the lawmakers. Getting more e- and alt-fuel autos on the road will help offset the environmental damage done by fossil fuel vehicles.

This makes it all the more urgent to not cut off tax credits that support the emerging electric and alternative fuels vehicle markets, argue the Senators.

Plus, the tax breaks are critical to auto makers' business plans.

"Auto manufacturers require long-term policy certainty to plan and manufacture new vehicle models, and so this approach to these important tax credits would facilitate a responsible transition to a clean transportation future," the Senators' letter concluded.

Joining Merkley in signing the letter were Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island), Martin Heinrich (New Mexico), Edward J. Markey (Massachusetts), Kamala Harris (California), Cory Booker (New Jersey), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Michael Bennet (Colorado), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada), Patty Murray (Washington), Dianne Feinstein (California), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Chris Murphy (Connecticut) and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders.

Space race return: Private companies started reaching for the stars as far back as 1980 when French company Arianespace was founded, notes Statista, the statistical online portal.

Until recently customers were generally reliant on rockets owned by the U.S. and Russian governments to get their payloads into orbit. That's changing.

Here's a look via a Statista graphic of which countries, since the Cold War space race ran its course, are winning today's new commercial space race:

Winning the commercial space race_Statista chartoftheday_12829

The bar chart above shows the number of commercial space launches by country from 1990 to 2017.

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