Planetary Radio Host and Producer, The Planetary Society
The former Oklahoma congressman and Navy aviator stepped into the leadership role barely a year ago. Now he wants to see humans back on the Moon by 2024 as a vital stepping stone to Mars. Join us for a wide-ranging conversation about this ambitious plan and much more. Planetary Society Chief Scientist Bruce Betts continues the countdown to launch of LightSail 2 before he takes us across the heavens in What’s Up.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine presenting at the 2019 Humans to Mars Summit on May 14, 2019.
Artist’s concept of a moon landing as part of NASA's Project Artemis
A priceless Planetary Society KickAsteroid rubber asteroid and a 200-point iTelescope.net astronomy account.
This week's question:
Name everyone who has served as NASA Administrator more than once. Terms of office must be non-contiguous or separated by some amount of time. This means Acting Administrators who are immediately appointed as Administrator don’t count!
About how wide an area was observed to have changed due to the Hayabusa 2 SCI impact on asteroid Ryugu?
The answer will be revealed next week.
Question from the May 8 space trivia contest:
What is the name of the approximately 930-meter asteroid that will fly by Earth at only .65 lunar distances in June of 2028?
The approximately 930-meter asteroid that will fly by Earth at only .65 lunar distances in June of 2028 is 153814 2001 WN5. (Definitely not Bob.)
Transcribed by Planetary Society volunteer Jake Bathman:
[Mat Kaplan]: A conversation with the leader of NASA, Jim Bridenstine, joins us this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. I'm back from the last of my many trips in the last month. They climaxed with last week's Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, DC. You'll hear the great material I gathered there in the coming weeks. It was backstage at H2M that I met the man who has been NASA Administrator since April of 2018. James Frederick Bridenstine was an Oklahoma Congressman when he decided to go for leadership of the world's foremost space agency. Now, he is at the forefront of the latest plan to return humans to the Moon and to do so by 2024. As you'll hear, he views this as an essential step toward reaching Mars. It is only been a couple of months since [00:01:00] this ambitious goal was announced. Plans are still being formulated and we only know how much additional money the agency wants for the first year of its development, but it has a name: Artemis, goddess of the Moon. Choosing a female namesake was very important to Bridenstine. First though, there were several other topics I wanted to cover in our interview, recorded on the morning of Tuesday May 21st, while the administrator was in the Washington headquarters of NASA. Administrator Bridenstine, it is an honor and a pleasure to welcome you to Planetary Radio.
[Jim Bridenstine]: Well thank you, Mat, always good to be here.
[Mat Kaplan]: Let me start with something on the personal side. I made a great visit to your home state two weeks ago. I joined my boss, The Science Guy, for a fun event at Science Museum Oklahoma. I got to interview author and historian Bill Moore. Have you seen his terrific book, "Oklahomans In Space"?
[Jim Bridenstine]: I have and I know Bill Moore personally. I used to run a little nonprofit Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and so I got to know him and [00:02:00] Oklahoma has an amazing history in space exploration.
[Mat Kaplan]: It really does. I mean I was aware that you had a lot of astronauts come out of Oklahoma, but the overall contribution by Oklahomans has really been tremendous.
[Jim Bridenstine]: That's right. And in fact, if you go back you think about the Oklahoma heritage, Oklahoma, I should say Tulsa, Oklahoma was at one time the oil capital of the world. People wonder, well, what does that matter? Well you have to remember in the in the 20s, 30s, 40s, aviation was really being... it was being brought into the mainstream. The oil companies in Oklahoma were very keen on seeing aviation be successful because it would mean that they could sell more oil. And so they invested heavily into the aviation industry and of course that eventually translated into the space industry and when I say in the aviation industry, they sponsored air shows and air races and those kind of things. They did everything they could to normalize [00:03:00] aviation and then when it came time for a space enterprise, Oklahomans actually stepped up and said wait a second, we think we could build the external components for the Saturn rockets that are going to take our astronauts to the Moon. And and in fact we bid on it and won those contracts. Going forward in Oklahoma we built the bay doors on the space shuttles, we built all of the truss structures on the International Space Station. The big device is on the International Space Station that maneuver the solar arrays for power on the ISS. So Oklahoma has a proud legacy of supporting America's space agenda. When I had the opportunity to run a little nonprofit museum I got to tell these stories quite a lot.
[Mat Kaplan]: You soud fairly proud of the accomplishments of your of your state. When did you get bit by the space bug?
[Jim Bridenstine]: I was in... I was an aviation enthusiast my whole life. When I was five years old, they made us draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up and I drew a picture of [00:04:00] an airplane and I said I wanted to be a pilot and I spelled it P-I-E-L-E-O-T. That was kindergarten. When I got... and eventually I you know, I went to Rice University. I was interviewing for like investment banking jobs and consulting jobs, and I couldn't do it. It just wasn't me. It didn't fit my personality. I wanted to be a pilot my whole life. So I joined the Navy, I became a pilot. When I got my wings of gold as a Naval aviator, my mom actually came to my winging ceremony and she brought that picture that I drew when I was in kindergarten and I had not seen it for well all those years and when I saw it, I immediately remembered I'm like, oh my God, I remember that. I remember making that picture. And of course now it's framed hanging on my wall. I had the aviation bug I would say my whole life, Mat. And there came a day really when I got to Congress, I ended up on the Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces [00:05:00] Subcommittee which deals with our national security space capabilities, but I was also on the Science Committee and the Space Subcommittee which oversees NASA. And then I was on the the Environment Subcommittee which oversees NOAA and about half of NOAA's budget... 40% of NOAA's budget is space-related activities. So for five and a half years in the House of Representatives I was working space issues.
[Mat Kaplan]: I got the impression when you were up for this job when you were nominated, and of course you've been in now for a little bit over a year, that this was this was something you really really wanted to do.
[Jim Bridenstine]: Yeah, it absolutely was. I really believe that that the United States of America has a lot to offer when it comes to leading the world in space exploration. And it's different today than it's ever been before. You go back to the 1960s when we went to the Moon, it was the United States against the Soviet Union. It was about politics, it was about economic systems, it was about demonstrating technological [00:06:00] prowess. And today, it's totally different. We have a partnership now with Russia that goes back to 1975. The Apollo-Soyuz program. We have a coalition of nations on the International Space Station, fifteen different countries that operate the International Space Station. We've got astronauts from dozens of countries that have... that have flown to the International Space Station and we've had 103 different countries from all around the world that have had experiments on the International Space Station. So this really demonstrates an ability of the United States of America to lead, to bring people together, and when geopolitics are struggling we're able to continue to collaborate on space exploration. I think that's really unique and special about space, and it brings people together even in Congress. It's bipartisan. And so I really thought this was a great opportunity. And yes, I'm very very thrilled about having this opportunity.
[Mat Kaplan]: And you can expect me to come back to [00:07:00] that international collaboration that space fosters. You know, after all, my boss says space brings out the best in us and brings us together. Just as you just said.
[Jim Bridenstine]: Absolutely.
[Mat Kaplan]: All of us at the Planetary Society, we hate it when we hear people say that NASA went away when the last space shuttle landed. Does that get to you too?
[Jim Bridenstine]: It does and a lot of people say that and I'll just tell you just since I've been the NASA Administrator... I'll give you an example. It wasn't I guess it was three or four months ago. China landed on the far side of the Moon and it was an amazing achievement. I tweeted congratulations. That's a really big deal. Landing on the Moon is very difficult, landing on the far side of the Moon is even more difficult. But the the amount of questions I got from members of Congress and people, public in general about how has NASA lost its way? And I remember I remember sharing okay,let's talk about this. They landed on the far side of the Moon and for that we should [00:08:00] all be very thrilled. What a great accomplishment. It's also true that the United States of America landed on the far side of Mars and we did it just a matter of months ahead of their landing on the far side of the Moon. And by the way, we've landed on Mars now eight times in human history and the United States is the only country that's been able to achieve that. And while that was happening just a few months after that I should say we had the OSIRIS-REx probe enter orbit around Bennu, which is never happened that you can enter orbit around an asteroid that small. And OSIRIS-REx is going to be bringing back samples from Bennu so that we can get those samples and not just do research on them here in the United States but share those samples with the world and demonstrate that when it comes to exploration this is this is an agenda for all of humanity. At the same time that OSIRIS-REx was entering orbit around Bennu, we had the New Horizon spacecraft flying by Ultima Thule in deep space 4 billion miles from Earth in the Kuiper [00:09:00] Belt and getting these beautiful images of this snowman-looking asteroid, this binary contact as it were, and we're still getting amazing data back from that. So when I hear people say, what happened to NASA? I'm like, we're going gangbusters. We're doing great things every day. And now we just had the Crew Dragon attached to the International Space Station. So we're getting ready to launch American astronauts from American soil again. There is no shortage of amazing achievements happening here at NASA all the time. I'm thrilled that there's an organization like the Planetary Society that's willing to go out and share that with all of the world, as a matter of fact, all of the world. These collaborations are really important and thank you guys for what you do.
[Mat Kaplan]: On behalf of the Society and our members I'll say you're very welcome, and thank you for the enthusiasm, the passion that you bring to it. Just last week your former colleagues, the ones on the House Appropriations [00:10:00] Committee, approved a $22.3 billion budget for NASA for next year, Fiscal Year 2020. And I'm told the bill doesn't have a whole lot to say about your new Moon plans, which we'll get to, but there is a lot of good news for other programs and how does it look to you?
[Jim Bridenstine]: Oh it's great. Now I will tell you we certainly want to have resources to go back to the Moon, to accelerate the path to the Moon, to land the next man and the first woman on the south pole of the Moon in 2024 that is on our agenda. We certainly want to do that. It is also true that the amendment to our budget request came in the same week they were marking up the bill. So the idea that that was going to get somehow weaved into the bill that late in the game was not realistic. But we did share with them what we're trying to achieve. The Senate has not yet marked up their bill. What I'm hoping is the Senate will mark up with the resources necessary to get tp the Moon and then of course the the House [00:11:00] bill and the Senate bill will be conferenced and we'll get a really good budget for NASA to achieve all of these important missions.
[Mat Kaplan]: Well, let's talk about Artemis, the name that you've given this lunar program. I love that name, by the way, the sister of Apollo. We been here before. There was the Space Exploration Initiative. There were six years later the Constellation program. Neither one of us got this to the Moon or to Mars. What do you hope is different this time?
[Jim Bridenstine]: You're making such an important point, Mat, and this is why the Planetary Society is so important to this effort. We need to be able to communicate to people that there is a reason we're not at the Moon right now and there is a reason, in fact, we're not at Mars right now. We should have humans on Mars even right now and the Planetary Society has been doing great work on this for many years. But here's the reason: politics. That's what it comes down to. We've had these ebbs and flows where we've got this agenda to go [00:12:00] back to the Moon and on to Mars the the Space Exploration Initiative back in the 1990's was that effort. And then of course, priorities changed, budgets change, Congress change, you've got administrations change and next thing you know it's out the window. Then in the early 2000s, we had the Vision for Space Exploration. Same thing, challenges with the war in Iraq and distractions and next thing you know the program gets cancelled. So in this particular case, what we're trying to do is make sure that we learn the lessons of history, that we build a program that is in fact sustainable so that we can get out the door, get to the Moon and get there in a sustainable way so that America and all of our International Partners we can have a very... we can have a program that we are all very proud of for years to come. Part of the reason we want to accelerate the path to the Moon... and I want to be clear because I know the Planetary Society is very keen on [00:13:00] Mars, so are we. The best way to get to Mars is to use the Moon as a proving ground. It's a place where we can learn to live and work on another world, to utilize the resources of another world to live and work, and build a sustainable architecture that we can then apply for a mission to Mars. The Moon is our best, quickest, safest path to get to Mars. That's our agenda here. Our intent is not... we do not want to get bogged down on the Moon. We want to have a sustainable presence at the Moon. But we also want to get humans to Mars. How do we not get cast to and fro the way we've been cast in the past? And in my view, Mat, our right approach is to accelerate. How do we reduce the political risk? We go faster. The sooner we get there, the less opportunity there will be to cancel the program. I mean, I'm just being brutally honest about it. This is really about reducing the political risk. Everybody knows the technical risk, NASA has thousands [00:14:00] and thousands of amazing scientists and engineers that can retire the technical risk. I have no doubt if it's just technical will be on the Moon in 2024 with a sustainable program and we'll be architecting the path to Mars. But I will also tell you that in order to make this happen we have to not just retire the technical risk, we have to retire the political risk. And to do that we need to accelerate the program, and that's really what we're trying to achieve here.
[Mat Kaplan]: Five and a half years, maybe, if we're going to get there by 2024. I'm not alone when I say I'd love to see this. But you also know that I'm not alone when I say that there's a lot of skepticism about whether that can be accomplished. I mean, yeah, they're the technical challenges. You've got the SLS, the Space Launch System, that big rocket which is, as you know, pretty far behind schedule, but whole new systems like a new lander. I mean, I joke you could just pull the Lunar Module out of the Air and Space [00:15:00] Museum and go with that. But there's so much more that's left to be done. And those political considerations, challenges that you've said are the biggest challenge.
[Jim Bridenstine]: That's right. So in a way politics has actually been beneficial in this case. There was a time when there was a move to cancel what was called the Constellation program. And and instead of canceling the whole program, in fact the House and the Senate in a bipartisan way stepped up and said we need to preserve the SLS rocket, the Orion crew capsule, the European service module. We need to preserve these elements. The House and the Senate actually did that. And because of that we actually now have the tool to get our astronauts, no kidding, to the Moon. Then the question is well, how do we get this done in five and a half years? As you said that's an aggressive schedule. Well because of what was done in years past we have those elements of the architecture. We are right now under way with what we call Gateway, [00:16:00] which is think of a small space station in orbit around the Moon and the Gateway is going to be maneuverable so we can have more access to more parts of the Moon than ever before. That Gateway is ultimately where we are going to aggregate components of a Lander to go down to the surface of the Moon. So between now and five and a half years from now, five years from now I should say, we need to have the Gateway on orbit around the Moon and we need to have a Lander aggregated at the Gateway. So those are the two components that are going to be the highest focus for the next five years. SLS and Orion with the European service module attached to Orion, those elements are going to be ready easily by 2024, 2025, and in fact will be ready to fly our crew to the Gateway in 2024 and at the Gateway we're going to have a Lander assembled for those crew members to go down to the surface of the Moon. The other thing is, if you'll indulge me for just a second, there is another important piece to [00:17:00] this that... and you mentioned the Artemis name. We are we are all so proud of Apollo which was fifty years ago. Fifty years ago when we did the Apollo project, it was test pilots, it was fighter pilots. That's where we got our astronauts from. Back then there were no opportunities for women. And now we have this very diverse and qualified Astronaut Corps. So think of this, fifty years after Apollo, we can name a program after the twin sister of Apollo who happens to be the goddess of the Moon. And in this new program, Artemis, we are in fact going to take America's first woman astronaut to the surface of the Moon. I just think it's a wonderful story. I want people all around the United States, all around the world to see themselves as having this amazing opportunity that wasn't available back in the 1960s and the 1970s. I've got an 11 year old daughter. I want her to see herself as being an astronaut capable of flying to the Moon. So I really think this is... [00:18:00] we're at a unique moment in time to make this a reality.
[Mat Kaplan]: And why not? Just yesterday as we speak Eric Berger at ARS Technica, I bet this is a big topic around the NASA HQ today,published what is apparently a preliminary breakdown of the missions that will be required not just to achieve that human ;landing in 2024, but to establish a permanent presence by 2028. It's very ambitious. And and I realize this is preliminary it wasn't really ready for publication it looks like. I mean, do you want to talk about it... does it though layout what is at least being talked about there or in the halls of NASA?
[Jim Bridenstine]: So I have not read the Eric Berger article, although I should because you're not the first person to bring it up. I'll need to read that. But but here's the thing: SLS, we've got three launches of SLS that we need to get done between now and 2024. The first one is uncrewed around the Moon with Orion and the European service [00:19:00] module. The second one is crewed around the Moon with Orion and the European service module. The third one, the third SLS launch I should say, we're calling it Artemis, the third Artemis launch, Artemis 3, it will be an SLS with an Orion service module and crew going to the Gateway. That's three SLS launches, the third one with crew to the Gateway. Between now and that day in 2024, we need to build the Gateway. There's two elements the Gateway that we have to have to get to the surface of the Moon. We need the power and propulsion element, its solar electric propulsion. So the Gateway will be sustainable. It's going to be around the Moon for 15 years. It can stay there for long periods of time and it's going to have what we call a utilization module think of a very small habitat. We don't want people staying there for months at a time, but certainly it's going to have the ability to sustain life for a period of time. So those two elements are going to [00:20:00] require commercial launches to build the Gateway, which is the first two elements of the key pieces to get to the surface. And then attach the Gateway we're going to have three elements potentially and different contractors could offer different proposals. A transfer vehicle to get from the Gateway down to low lunar orbit. A descent module to get to the surface of the Moon. And an ascent module to get back to the Gateway. So the idea is you have two elements the Gateway that will be assembled. You'll have a Lander that includes three elements. And in fact, we want two very distinct landing systems provided by two very distinct contractors in order to reduce risk and if there's a setback by one the other one can go forward. Right there, there's eight commercial launches to get that that first woman and next man to the to the surface of the Moon, the south pole of the Moon, in fact, in the year 2024. That's the architecture that we're looking at right now. But I want to be clear, Mat, we're doing this in a [00:21:00] way that's never been done before. People say well, how much is it going to cost? We want specifics. How much is going to cost? This is what's important: to get from the Gateway down to the surface of the Moon and then back to the Gateway. We are talking about buying this as a service. We're not going to purchase, own, and operate the lander. We're not going to generate thousands and thousands and thousands of requirements and micromanage every piece of this architecture. We're going to buy a service from a commercial provider that is going to have customers that are going to be people other than NASA. So who are those customers? Well, we don't know yet, but I believe that they are out there. Could be tourists, could be manufacturers, could be people interested in pharmaceuticals. There's a lot of different customers that could be out there that would have an interest in getting to the surface of Moon. Could be interested... could be people interested in using the water ice that we discovered back in 2008 and in 2009. So there's there's all kinds of opportunity here. We're going to receive proposals from [00:22:00] industry and see who can provide what and see what they're thinking as far as cost. And of course we want to share in that cost. But we are expecting our commercial providers to also invest their own resources so that they can have a market that goes beyond NASA.
[Mat Kaplan]: Would you call this new Commercial Lunar Payload Surfaces program, otherwise known as CLPS, is that sort of a first generation of what you're talking about?
[Jim Bridenstine]: That's exactly right. So CLPS is our intent to buy access to the surface of the Moon without us purchasing, owning, and operating the hardware. We have scientific instruments, we have landers, we have other things that we want to get to the surface of the Moon to do all kinds of different scientific experiments. What we don't want to do is we don't want to purchase, own, and operate the hardware to get our science capabilities to the Moon. We want to have a commercial provider and we're... for CLPS, we're talking about very light payloads. We're talking about 15 pounds, 20 pounds. [00:23:00] Small payloads the surface of the Moon. And we want to use these scientific instruments to make characterizations about the surface of the Moon so that when our astronauts get there in 2024, they can no kidding do very meaningful work. And so we're going to have potentially dozens of missions to the surface of the Moon between now and 2024 that are going to be small payloads, NASA payloads, delivered commercially to the surface and through that process that's going to be run by the Science Mission Directorate, we're going to learn all kinds of things about precision landing, about the surface of the Moon, about communication architectures. We're going to learn all kinds of things that will then be applicable to our eventual human landing. So the answer is yes, absolutely, Mat, we intend to use CLPS as a technology demonstration capability as well as a science capability to feed forward to our eventual Moon landing in 2024.
[Mat Kaplan]: More of my [00:24:00] conversation with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is moments away. Stay with us.
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[Mat Kaplan]: Back to Artemis directly. You called the $1.6 billion augmentation that NASA and the administration have requested for FY 2020 to begin this. You called it a down payment. It doesn't sound like a lot of money. Several old hands have warned me that it's a mistake to go small upfront because the initial planning phase is so critical to success for a big [00:25:00] program like this is inevitably going to be. Are you concerned about that?
[Jim Bridenstine]: So the answer is yes, that's something that I worry about. I want to make sure that this program not only gets out of the gate but actually gets completed and so learning the lessons of history is critically important and and understanding the concerns of the old hands is definitely important as well. I will also say, listening to this particular podcast from other folks, if you go back and and you you hear the Space Exploration Initiative in the 1990s, what resulted in its cancellation. They came out of the gate with too much money, and Congress immediately said well, that's too much. We're not going to be able to achieve that. And Congress... it never it never got launched. So the answer is when we talk about any kind of development project. And for this we're talking specifically about landers to go from the Gateway to the surface of the Moon. We are talking about a standard bell curve [00:26:00] of funding where the initial years are pretty low. I should say the initial year in this case since we are accelerating is fairly low and then it goes up from there. So the second year, the third year, it accelerates and then the fourth year, the fifth year it starts coming back down as you get into sustainable operations. That bell curve... what I would like to have had and and who knows maybe the Senate will help us with this, I'd like to take the money that's required for the entire program and get it all in year one, then we don't have to worry about the bell curve and whether or not we're going to get it in year two, three, and four. But instead, you know, the way Congress funds things it's one year at a time and we need to make sure that for the year 2020 we're getting the money that we need in the year 2020. And then from there we go to 2021. The appropriators very fiercely guarded their ability to control the money year in and year out and I understand why they do that. I used to be in the House myself. That's how they have checks and balances on the Executive Branch. It's written into the Constitution. Certainly I [00:27:00] fully respect that. But you're right, it does create concerns. We want to make sure that we not only get started we want to make sure that we finish this this project. I will tell you that there is bipartisan support in the House and the Senate for this project and I will work very closely with the appropriators as we go through this.
[Mat Kaplan]: You've made my colleague Casey Dryer very happy because I think you were referring to our monthly space policy edition in his recent conversation with Mark Albrecht.
[Jim Bridenstine]: Yes, that was I was... yeah, good, good.
[Mat Kaplan]: Well Casey will have to send you a note, thank you note for that. You know, speaking of you said bipartisan support now, maybe I'm not as well-informed as I should be but I haven't heard of anyone in Congress so far out and out saying that they oppose this plan, but there are definitely members who want to hear more. How are you going to win over the more skeptical among them and maybe even a few of those who have other motives?
[Jim Bridenstine]: Well the key to this whole thing and the reason it hasn't succeeded in the [00:28:00] past, we have to keep it bipartisan. That's what I've been working on when I went through the confirmation process. I committed to everybody that we would run this in an apolitical, bipartisan way. I think we've had a lot of success with that. It is true as far as I know nobody has come out and opposed it. There are people out there that say we need more information. Believe me, I understand that. We want to work with them to get them all the information they need to feel comfortable with this with this project. I will also tell you that members of the House and the Senate on both sides of the aisle have said to me privately, we want to make sure you're getting what you need. We don't want to shortchange you. Is this enough? There's actually one questioner on the record... it was Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan who I have great respect for because he cares a lot about space especially when it comes to space weather, he's really involved in space weather, and he asked me on the record in a hearing he said, is this enough? [00:29:00] And I answer I said well sir, it's it's enough for the first year, but you know, we're going to need more in future years. I really think that this is an apolitical, bipartisan kind of thing. People want to go back to the Moon. They want to have this moment where we recognize we haven't had a person on the Moon since 1972 and because of that there has been no women on the Moon. I think that there is strong bipartisan support for this Artemis program where for the first time we're going to demonstrate that this is a program for all of America, everybody. That includes not just women and men but but all races and ethnicities. We really have a moment of opportunity here that we didn't have in the 1960s and the 1970s and I think it's important that we capitalize on it.
[Mat Kaplan]: Let's turn to the international side of this. As you brought up earlier, I talked last week at the Humans to Mars Summit with a representative of JAXA, the Japanese space agency. [00:30:00] She had positive things to say about support for the Lunar Gateway and now I've read that prime minister Shinzo Abe may sign an agreement for support of the Gateway, participation in the Gateway, I've heard as soon as next week. Do you expect the same to happen with other international partners that that we'll depend on?
[Jim Bridenstine]: I absolutely do. If you look at what the Canadian space agency has already done, they've already signed up for a 24 year commitment to our lunar activities. I should say, when I say our lunar activities, I'm not talking about just the United States. I'm talking about ours, like collectively all of the international partners. As we go through the budget process for these other countries I think what you're going to find is strong support for going back to the Moon. I don't want to preempt any announcements by the Prime Minister of Japan, but but I do think that it's not going to just be Japan. It's not going to just be the European Space Agency. I think it's going to be countries... [00:31:00] there's countries right now that have space agencies that are a year old. Greece and Poland and Luxembourg and... there's all kinds of countries that want to participate in this and we're trying to figure out ways where they'll have that opportunity. India has a great space program now, they're interested in going to the Moon. In fact, they've got their own Moon mission coming up. They could they could be helpful. Brazil is interested. There's countries out there that right now are not partners on the International Space Station, but that want to be partners with us when we go to the Moon and we are interested in figuring out how we work with them to achieve that.
[Mat Kaplan]: I will just bring up once again that quote from my boss, space brings out the best in us. You've been very generous with your time. And you do have a space agency to run. I got just one more for you. I read that you made 333 carrier landings in your Navy career. I've had astronauts who've done both tell me that landing on a carrier deck at night [00:32:00] is a lot scarier than anything they've done in space. Do you want to make it at least into low earth orbit some day so that you can make that comparison?
[Jim Bridenstine]: Well, I think I'm beyond my prime as far as that goes. But as far as carrier landing, I was never scared. I always had it made. It was always good to go. I'm kidding, of course. I'm kidding. I was every bit as... my heart rate was, you know, probably over 200. I remember those days and I'm glad that I did 'em. I'm glad that I serve my country in that way. I'm also glad that I'm not doing it right now.
[Mat Kaplan]: But do you want to get up there someday? I mean if somebody offered you a ride at least up and back or maybe in a low earth orbit, or maybe a visit to a Moon base?
[Jim Bridenstine]: Without question. If there is ever an opportunity, I would take it in a heartbeat and certainly I will also say if—and Bill Nye talks about this a lot—if you look at our Astronaut Corps, these are all... these are all just amazingly accomplished individuals, [00:33:00] people that have three or four PhDs, plus, you know being a Navy SEAL all at the same time. I'm pretty sure I would not go make it through that process, but I will also tell you I'm glad that we have the amazing Astronaut Corps that we have, but I also want to make sure that as we commercialize low earth orbit we are expanding access to space for for everybody. That's the goal. We want everybody. The more people we can have experience spaceflight, I think the better we're going to be as a country and the better it's going to be for all of humanity.
[Mat Kaplan]: I'd like to make that trip with you, Administrator Bridenstine.
[Jim Bridenstine]: Alright, we'll do it.
[Mat Kaplan]: Thank you very much for this and best of success as you continue to lead the leading space agency on planet Earth.
[Jim Bridenstine]: Thank you, Mat. And I just want to say a shout out. I know your listeners at the Planetary Society. They listen to this. We are so grateful for the great work of the Planetary Society. And without your [00:34:00] leadership we wouldn't be where we are right now, and I just want to encourage everybody to continue doing what you do to make sure people understand the importance of space exploration.
[Mat Kaplan]: Many thanks for that as well. Jim Bridenstine. He became NASA's 13th Administrator, just 13 since what 1959 I think, barely a year ago, April 23rd, 2018. He came to NASA of course from Oklahoma where he represented the 1st Congressional District. Time for What's Up on Planetary Radio. We are joined once again by the Chief Scientist for the Planetary Society, and he... well we're going to get to what's up in the night sky and all the other stuff, but obviously LightSail is on our minds at the Planetary Society right now. You've got an interesting little sidelight... an insight rather into what it takes to get a spacecraft up there having to do with what, paperwork?
[Bruce Betts]: Indeed having to do with [00:35:00] paperwork. So in addition to all the paperwork you want to keep or at least electronic versions of everything you're doing to the spacecraft, they're also wonderful regulatory requirements from the US Government, including from the FCC for having a radio license, which we just got radio license applicable to the new launch period. Then we've been having lovely required correspondence with NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, who of course is the organization in charge of monitoring any spacecraft, US spacecraft that has a camera on board.
[Mat Kaplan]: Really? That's great.
[Bruce Betts]: We filed our pre-launch submission to them. We also had previous submissions to them. We've got the new license from the FCC and so it's fun times. Things that most people don't know nor do they want to know are required when you fly spacecraft in [00:36:00] space.
[Mat Kaplan]: But you, you lucky dog, you can to deal with all this.
[Bruce Betts]: I do, I do. And I have a good team that helps me out.
[Mat Kaplan]: That's good. I'm glad because...
[Bruce Betts]: I sign the paperwork.
[Mat Kaplan]: But I know how much you love bureaucracy.
[Bruce Betts]: It's one of the reasons I work at the Planetary Society is my dislike of bureaucracy.
[Mat Kaplan]: Let's go ahead and talk about what's up there in the night sky soon to be joined by LightSail 2.
[Bruce Betts]: The morning sky is kind of petered out except for a Jupiter and Saturn still being up in the south in the pre-dawn. But in the evening sky, Jupiter and Saturn moving into the evening and they're rising. So Jupiter's actually looking like a very bright star in the east in the mid... early mid evening. It'll be brighter than any other star in the sky. And then Saturn's coming up around the middle of the night looking yellowish. Oh and Mars. Don't forget about Mars. It's really recalcitrant. If [00:37:00] I actually know what that word means, and is hanging on in the southwest in the early evening looking reddish and not that bright.
[Mat Kaplan]: That doesn't have anything to do with calcium, does it?
[Bruce Betts]: It's the re-uptake of calcium, recalcitrant. I really should try not to demonstrate my confusion on vocabulary on the radio. But oh well. We move on, quickly, to this week in space history. It was a long time ago, 60 years, 1959. The successful flight of the monkeys Able and Baker, suborbital flight into space and back. And then 10 years later, Apollo 10 descended with its Lunar Module to within 15.6 kilometers of the Moon's surface in a full rehearsal preparing for Apollo 11.
[Mat Kaplan]: Happy anniversary General Thomas Stafford.
[Bruce Betts]: Indeed. And by the way, we've [00:38:00] continued to put new pages on our website about the Apollos every time we pass an anniversary. So Jason Davis has prepared a wonderful Apollo 10 page. You can find that our mission pages on our website.
[Mat Kaplan]: planetary.org, he's doing great work with that. Thank you for mentioning it.
[Bruce Betts]: We move onto Random Space Fact.
[Mat Kaplan]: Well, I like that a lot. But I mean here's maybe the biggest omission of I've ever made in not getting a celebrity to...
[Bruce Betts]: You didn't ask Administrator Bridenstine to do random space fact?
[Mat Kaplan]: I'll call him back right after we're done.
[Bruce Betts]: All right. Well, you have my permission to replace mine if you actually did that.
[Mat Kaplan]: Thank you.
[Bruce Betts]: Speaking of NASA and who works for them, there are more than 17,000 people who work as employees of NASA and of course lots lots lots more who are funded as contractors and getting [00:39:00] grants and other things but about 17,000 actual employees.
[Mat Kaplan]: Big organization yeah that he runs.
[Bruce Betts]: All right, we move on to the trivia contest and I asked you the somewhat complicated question, what is the name of the 930 meter asteroid that will fly by Earth at .65 the distance to the Moon in June, 2028? Spooky. How'd we do?
[Mat Kaplan]: Most people came up with this. There were quite a few who had an alternative, 1997 XF11. But it actually is going to make its close pass later in that same year. Apparently it's a big year for big rocks going by our moderately big planet. The vast majority of people did come up with what I think you were looking for. I'll give you the full name (153814) 2001 WN5. Boy, so sexy. I just, even talking about it, I start to sweat.
[Bruce Betts]: Yeah I just call it Bob. [00:40:00]
[Mat Kaplan]: Well, we had a few people who said that they're putting in either Kaplan or Betts as... they're nominating us to... for the renaming of it. We got that amongst other entries from Paul in London. London, England. He is a longtime listener, first-time winner. Is he correct, first of all?
[Bruce Betts]: Yes.
[Mat Kaplan]: Fantastic! Paul, I'm glad to give this to you. Why? Because he has let me know in the past that among the things he does in life, he takes groups of young people all over the world to show them interesting parts of our world and they spend a good deal of time looking up at the night sky. And he depends on What's Up to give him clues as to what to point out to the kids.
[Bruce Betts]: That's cool.
[Mat Kaplan]: Paul, you're going to get yourself a Planetary Society. Oh, you jumped the gun. You're warming up, I can tell. A planetary [00:41:00] Society kick asteroid rubber asteroid and a 200 point iTelescope.net account, that worldwide network operated on a non-profit basis out of Australia where we have so many listeners, telescopes all over the world that you can use to look at stuff all over the Universe. Anyway, that's what Paul is going to get. Speaking of Australia, Chris in North Turramurra, Australia, tura-mura-mura, tura-mura-lie. He says it really does need a catchier name like Almost Destroyer of Worlds or something. He says he looks forward to Dave Fairchild's poem, what rhymes with WN5? Stayin' Alive? Well stay tuned. You'll know in a moment, Chris. Benton, I'm not sure where he is, but we've heard from him before he says with the mean diameter of almost a kilometer it's a big fella, the mean diameter of 932 meters means, you ready? [00:42:00] That would have a cross-sectional area of about 21,300 LightSail 2's. Oh it gets better.
[Bruce Betts]: The new area unit of the Universe.
[Mat Kaplan]: If it's a sphere you could cover it with 85,300 LightSail 2's, but you might have to cut some up. Honestly, I could come up with some better ideas for what to do with that many LightSails, but we've only got a little more than nine years and we'll need to make more than 25 per day if we want to have that asteroid covered.
[Bruce Betts]: We'll take that under consideration.
[Mat Kaplan]: Here's Christopher in Williamsburg, Virginia. He says coincidentally 2001 WN5, they considered that name for their second child, but for some reason they went with Lindsay.
[Bruce Betts]: Yeah, maybe there'll be a third.
[Mat Kaplan]: As promised, from our Poet Laureate Dave Fairchild. In just about nine years from now, an NEA comes near and how. It flies by [00:43:00] in June, closer yet than the Moon. Much nearer, Nye wouldn't allow.
[Bruce Betts]: I'm gonna have to talk to him.
[Mat Kaplan]: Yeah good stuff this week. Okay, we're ready to move on.
[Bruce Betts]: All right, we will move on in the vein of NASA Administrator fun. This is a simple question, but I have to put all sorts of caveats on there because of the tricky audience. Name everyone who served as NASA Administrator more than once. That... that's the simple version. Now, Acting Administrators count, terms of office must be non-contiguous in other words separated by some time. So acting administrators who were then immediately appointed administrator don't count and that will... that's the equivalent of my fine print.
[Mat Kaplan]: Are you sure you don't work for NOAA or the FCC?
[Bruce Betts]: No, but I've been reading a lot of those docs. Maybe that explains it.
[Mat Kaplan]: All right. It's a great question. You need to get us [00:44:00] your answer by the 29th. That's Wednesday, May 29 at 8 a.m. Pacific time and you might win yourself one of those Planetary Society rubber asteroids and a 200 point iTelescope.net account.
[Bruce Betts]: All right, go out there look up the night sky and think about if you took NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to ice cream, what ice cream flavor would you offer him? Thank you and good night. That whole asteroids on the brain thing makes me think rocky road.
[Mat Kaplan]: I'll go with that. I like that, and I like doing this segment every week with Bruce Betts, the Chief Scientist for the Planetary Society. He's here every time with What's Up. Planetary Radio is produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California and is made possible by our proud members. MaryLiz Bender is our Associate Producer. Josh Doyle composed our theme which was arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. [00:45:00] I'm Mat Kaplan. Ad Astra.