As part of our ongoing commitment to inform our members, the Space Policy & Advocacy team will begin publishing regular updates on our activities, actions, and priorities in our ongoing effort to promote space science and exploration in Washington, D.C. We hope this provides a better sense of the day-to-day work we do year-round on your behalf. —Casey
The Society’s Space Policy & Advocacy program took a major step with the addition of Matt Renninger to a full time staff position of Senior Manager of Government Relations, replacing a part-time role previously held by an independent contractor. The addition of Matt caps a period of unprecedented expansion of the program, which now boasts three full-time staff with complementary specialties of outreach, policy development, and congressional relations.
Matt’s addition was well timed. The FY18 President’s Budget Request was released two months late and though it contained generally good budgetary news for The Society’s top priorities, it was missing a new start for a Mars telecom/imaging orbiter. This is an important issue for the organization and we released a white paper in May detailing the status of the program and the need for immediate investment in a telecommunications orbiter/high-resolution imager to continue support for Mars exploration throughout the 2020s.
Given the ongoing vacancy at NASA Administrator and active congressional work their own funding priorities, government engagement was focused on Congress. Society staff made 37 in-person visits to Congress in this period, primarily focused on the Mars issue.
Other activities of note include: Targeted engagement with key Congressional contacts, a high-level visit to the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), unsolicited requests for input from Congressional contacts, and high-value TPS member driven advocacy.
The Society also completed its annual fundraising drive for the program. The results were very good, raising just a shade over $200,000 with an original goal of $100,000.
- Increase awareness and promote legislative action to address problems facing the Mars Exploration Program, particularly regarding the need for a new start on a data relay/high-resolution imaging orbiter and the lack of planning for missions completing Mars Sample Return
- Promote Society priorities of planetary science, search for life, and the human exploration of Mars throughout the FY 2018 budget process in Congress.
- Continue to work to create a broad, bipartisan consensus for planetary exploration in Washington, D.C.
- Support Development activities for the annual Advocacy fundraising effort
- 11,440 Emails sent to Congress
- 37 In-person office meetings
- 19,930 Average space policy podcast listenership
The Space Policy & Advocacy team generated 37 in-person contacts with Congressional offices. This represents a five-fold increase in Congressional contacts over the previous quarter. We intend to continue working to engage both political parties in the possibilities and potentials of a reinvigorated exploration and science agenda at NASA.
The most common discussion topics, in order of prominence, were:
- Telecom infrastructure at Mars in response to the “Mars in Retrograde” white paper
- The value of a broad, bipartisan group to support planetary exploration
- The potential cost of putting Humans on Mars in the 2030s
- National space infrastructure
Of the 37 contacts in the current quarter, 36 were at the staff level and 1 was directly with a Member of Congress (MOC). In the previous quarter, the advocacy team had 7 total contacts, all of which were directly with Members of Congress. This discrepancy in direct MOC contacts is a result of Bill Nye’s February trip to D.C. during which the advocacy team focused on MOC meetings as opposed to arranging meetings at the staff level for members of the advocacy team.
Given the dramatic increase in critical staff level meetings in quarter 3 of 2017 the groundwork has been laid for a level of MOC engagement far beyond the 8 total MOC contacts generated over the past two quarters.
Targeted Congressional Advocacy
In the lead up to the Congressional budget markups, advocacy efforts were focused on strategic engagement with Congressional subcommittees; specifically the House Space Subcommittee and the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee on Appropriations.
TPS staff were on hand for a variety of D.C.-based space events, including: NASA Teach Day on the Hill, Galaxy Ball, Space Ball Day at National’s Park, Science in Society Reception and the Journey to Mars Day on the Hill.
Visit to the Space Telescope Science Institute
TPS staff worked to increase engagement with local NASA centers. Towards this end, members of the advocacy team spent a day at the Space Telescope Science Institute. The team met with the Director and Deputy Director of STSci, in addition to the Missions Directors of Hubble, James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and WFIRST. The team received presentations on how current and future space telescope missions will contribute to the search for life. The groundwork was laid for future coordination on the launch and initial returns from JWST, future event in D.C., and cooperation on joint public and general education programs.
TPS Member Driven Advocacy
Following the release of the “Mars in Retrograde” white paper, a TPS member passed a copy to Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) during a town hall meeting. Rep. McGovern does not sit on either of the subcommittees with an immediate link to NASA, however the advocacy team followed up with a face-to-face meeting with the Congressman and his space staffer to discuss the white paper thanks to the actions of this Society member.
The Space Policy & Advocacy program raised over $200,000 from Society members during the 2017 fundraising effort. This is the largest amount raised in a single year for the program this decade. We thank the more than 1,200 donors for their generosity, which offsets a significant portion of our operating expenses and enables us to accelerate work on a member-focused Space Advocate training toolkit, targeted for late fall of 2017.
Over the next three months, the Space Policy & Advocacy team will continue to focus on the same policy priorities, namely increasing NASA’s budget and promoting legislative action to address inaction on NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.
In addition, we are tracking the following issues:
- The House and Senate have yet to pass budget resolutions which does not bode well for the likelihood of on-time FY18 appropriations bills on Oct 1. This uncertainty also increases the likelihood of a continuing resolution for NASA, which would be subject to spending caps from the Budget Control Act of 2011. There are also a number of interrelated budgetary issues, including necessary votes to increase the debt limit, that could cause disruptions.
- The Trump Administration has yet to propose a NASA Administrator. Even if one is nominated soon, it is uncertain how quickly the Senate could consider and vote on their nomination due to the various other important issues currently being debated. Absent political representation provided by a NASA Administrator or Deputy Administrator, the agency is unlikely to embrace new programs.
- NASA has stopped referencing Mars as its destination for the human spaceflight program. With the announcement of a reconstituted National Space Council it is entirely possible that HSF may switch focus yet again to the lunar surface and away from a sustainable humans-to-Mars program.