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Bringing a little star power to Capitol Hill

Posted by Jennifer Vaughn

09-05-2012 20:11 CDT

Topics: Space Policy, Bill Nye, Planetary Society Political Advocacy

Yesterday, Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson brought their unique brand of motivational speaking to Capitol Hill. In a standing-room-only lunch discussion in one of the meeting rooms for the Committee on Space, Science, Technology, these two space superstars, along with planetary scientist Louise Prockter, explained to members of Congress, staffers, and media why we must continue to invest in planetary exploration.

Bill's message focused on the big picture – "space exploration brings out the best in us….What does it say about us if we stop looking up and out…if we stop exploring?" At one point in the presentation, he showed the iconic Cassini image of Saturn backlit by the Sun – a breathtaking view of Saturn, but also a view of our Earth seen from a billion miles away. He used the image to remind the audience that our robotic explorers have the unique ability to help us understand what he calls "our place in space."

Bill Nye urging Capitol Hill staffers to explore the solar system

The Planetary Society

Bill Nye urging Capitol Hill staffers to explore the solar system
On May 8, 2012, Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson brought their unique brand of motivational speaking to Capitol Hill, explaining to members of Congress, staffers, and media why we must continue to invest in planetary exploration.

Louise toured us through the highlights of recent planetary exploration and summarized how the Planetary Science Decadal Survey prioritized future endeavors. I spoke to a number of the younger staffers in the room who told me they were blown away by how much we had done in just the last decade. I forget (or take for granted) how much we have accomplished in such a short time, so it was refreshing to look at our planetary program through these new eyes.

Neil wrapped up the event with a passionate plea for action and investment, saying he doesn't want the 2010s to be the decade during which we just commemorate 50-year anniversaries of cool stuff in space. He wants this decade to be when we do cool stuff that future generations will commemorate. As expected, Neil was the climactic end to the event—leaving me (and, I expect, others) ready to get up and get to work.

At the event, we were honored to have three members of congress in the audience—Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Lamar Smith (R-TX). Both Hultgran and Schiff addressed the group in separate short speeches, and both pledged their commitment to space exploration. We're fortunate to have supporters such as these in the House.

Also in attendance were Planetary Society Board members Jim Bell, Heidi Hammel, Scott Hubbard, John Logsdon, Louis Friedman, and Lon Levin, as well as members of the planetary science community and representatives from other space-interest groups.

The Administration's budget proposal for FY2013 cut the planetary science budget by $300 million, making it virtually impossible to plan for a future flagship mission and threatening other priorities outlined in the Decadal Survey. Congress is currently debating the budget, and events such as this one on the Hill is just one of the ways The Planetary Society is fighting to restore funding for planetary science.

So far, Planetary Society members have sent more than 20,000 messages supporting NASA's planetary program. We're now gearing up for a mail/email petition campaign. From those I spoke with yesterday, I am assured we are being heard. Still, the news today does not look good, so the work continues. We will keep rallying for NASA's planetary science budget throughout the long budget process, which could last into the fall. And, we'll continue to let you know how you can help.

See other posts from May 2012


Or read more blog entries about: Space Policy, Bill Nye, Planetary Society Political Advocacy


Astrojunky: 05/18/2012 09:59 CDT

With a budget cut of 300 million, What can we do.will we still be able to Explore.

Joe: 05/19/2012 02:54 CDT

I need to see the budget slide just received in snailmail so I can forward to my congressman. Otherwise I have to scan.

joecain: 05/19/2012 03:21 CDT

How much was the Webb telescope budget item? I was told that it is eating eveyone's lunch; that it was added while attempting to keep the overall NASA budget nearly the same as last year's required a massive cut somewhere else. True?

bware: 05/25/2012 11:31 CDT

Since the military budget is being cut also can the $300 Mil be taken from that and redirected to NASA? After all NASA promotes and builds, not builds and destroy.

Worried: 05/27/2012 10:33 CDT

So let me get this straight... Bill and Neil gave impassioned speeches talking about the importance of space exploration to a room full of space enthusiasts and the three people in congress who actually care about space exploration, and this is a victory? Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of the Society, and glad to see it fighting for our space interests, but we need to do better. It's no use appealing to congress' better nature, they have none. We must find leverage. We must make an economic argument. We must find a way to tie space exploration to congressional elections. That's what the politicians holding the purse strings care about. The only way to get any motion on this issue is if the goons in office think it might impact their careers. They've got every bank, insurance, and oil company trying to crawl up their butts on a daily basis. Telling them about "bringing out the best of humanity" and "leaving a legacy of greatness for their children" wont even get you in the door. No matter how true it may be. If you need evidence of that fact look no further than the limp-wristed efforts at climate change legislation. If the possible extinction of the species wont get these twits to open the national wallet for something that doesn't explode, do you really think telling them about the oceans of Europa or galaxy formation will do anything? Politicians care about only two things: votes and $$$. 20,000 letters is a good start, but the Society needs to figure out a way to get real leverage against our representatives or all we'll get is lip-service and 3 congressmen out of hundreds...

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