Casey DreierOct 07, 2017

Space Policy & Advocacy Program Quarterly Report - October 2017

As a service to our members and in a spirit of transparency, The Planetary Society's Space Policy & Advocacy team publishes quarterly reports on their activities, actions, and priorities in service of their efforts to promote space science and exploration in Washington, D.C.

Key Actions & Achievements

  • Co-organized an event at the Australian Embassy with CEO Bill Nye as the keynote speaker and meeting with top Australian science minister
  • Helped secure $62 million for a Mars Orbiter mission and supported the $2.12 billion for NASA's Planetary Science Division in the House spending bill (HR 3354), which passed the House on September 14th
  • Helped secure an additional $75 million for the Mars Exploration Program in the Senate CJS bill (S1662) which passed committee but has yet to receive a full vote
  • Presented a paper at the International Astronautical Congress on the role of the cost-capped Discovery missions in NASA's planetary program
  • Mentored an intern from Purdue University as a proof-of-concept of an expanded internship program
  • Began "Phase A" formulation of the Space Advocate Online Toolkit project to better train TPS members in advocacy and space policy
  • Hand-delivered all physical member petitions to congressional offices

Policy Priorities

  • 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 (planetary exploration, planetary defense) during the FY 2018 budget process in Congress
  • Ensure Humans to Mars stays a top priority for NASA
  • Build and improve our relationships with international space partners



In-person office meetings


Average space policy podcast listenership


Space Advocate Newsletter audience

Activity Summary

In a demonstration of our new "on-the-ground" capabilities in Washington, D.C., the policy team reached out to the Australian Embassy and solidified a strategic partnership by co-hosting an event to promote their space activities in anticipation of the 2017 IAC in Adelaide, Australia.

August is generally a tough time to host an event in Washington, with Congress in a month-long recess. Despite this, Senior Government Relations Manager Matt Renninger and Space Policy Adviser Jason Callahan worked with the embassy to pack more than 320 attendees into the reception hall at the Australian Embassy. Society CEO Bill Nye gave the keynote speech at the reception.

In the course of regular activities, the Space Policy & Advocacy team generated 23 in-person contacts with Congressional offices in the fourth quarter. This represents a decrease from the 37 Congressional contacts during the previous quarter, and was due to the six-week long congressional recess in August and September.

The most common discussion topics, in order of prominence, were:

  • Funding for the Mars Exploration Program to support future missions, such as a new Mars Orbiter and Mars sample return
  • Space policy analysis for ongoing legislation
  • Discussion topics for Congressional Staff briefings on space policy

For the second summer in a row, the Space Policy & Advocacy program hosted an intern who provided research and on-the-ground assistance to the local staff. Aaron Campbell, from Purdue University volunteered with Matt and Jason throughout the summer. His internship culminated with two in-person visits to his home-state legislators to discuss space issues, which he blogged about on

Space Policy Adviser Jason Callahan attended the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia where he presented the paper: American R&D Policy and the Push for Small Planetary Missions at NASA. Callahan was also in attendance to a variety of policy meetings in the D.C. area, including the NASA Cost and Schedule Symposium.

Activity Highlights

Leveraging Planetary Society Member Advocacy

In early July, a Society member in Massachusetts had a face-to-face encounter with his member of Congress, Jim McGovern (D-MA). He shared a copy of our report, Mars in Retrograde: A Pathway for Restoring NASA's Mars Exploration Program, and expressed his concerns about the future of NASA's robotic exploration at the Red Planet. This member told us about the meeting. Matt Renninger reached out to Rep. McGovern's office in Washington, D.C. and had a meeting within the week with Congressman McGovern and staff to follow up on our member's outreach. This was a new office contact and entirely due to the actions of a TPS member.

Interviews with Members of Congress (MOC)

As part of our ongoing efforts to increase our profile with members of Congress, as well increase our members access to policy makers and the legislative process, the policy team conducted two media interviews with MOCs in Q4.

In the first ever appearance of a sitting member of Congress on the Space Policy Edition of Planetary Radio, Casey interviewed Congressman Rick Larsen (D-WA). Their conversation covered science and space policy, and was done in partnership with a local nonprofit radio station.

Matt Renninger utilized volunteer support to film an interview with Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) on the steps of the Capitol moments before a vote on the House budget package that included increased funding for the Mars Exploration program.

Local Activities

Over the last quarter, the advocacy team has worked to leverage its on-the-ground capability in D.C. to take advantage of the active convention schedule in the area.

The team worked with the local D.C. volunteer group to organize a booth at AwesomeCon, D.C.'s premier fantasy/science/science fiction convention. With about 15,000, attendees the team had its hands full for a full 3 days answering questions about The Planetary Society and engaging with the public about our work.

Two months later, the team set up a second booth at Escape Velocity, a yearly science fiction convention in D.C. that is raising money to build a national science fiction museum in D.C.

Additionally, Planetary Society staff were on hand for a wide range of D.C.-based events, including:

  • The House Science Space and Technology committee hearing on the recent eclipse, featuring Society Vice President, Heidi Hammel
  • Politico's Panel on "The New American Space Age," featuring Society Board Member John Logsdon
  • AAAS Space Policy Happy Hour

Original Content

The Space Policy Edition (SPE) podcast continued to perform well, with an average listenership of 17,521 per episode for the three episodes posted during this period. Topic highlights during this period were:

  • NASA's Ice Giants Flagship study report
  • Interview with Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), on space and science policy
  • The National Academies' report on the value of flagship missions, including an interview with Ralph McNutt, co-chair of the report committee

Though the average audience dipped slightly in this quarter (down from 19,930), it was almost certainly due to technical issues that delayed the appearance of SPE in users' podcast feeds for multiple days. The technical issues have since been identified and corrected.

The monthly Space Advocate e-Newsletter audience grew to 24,262 recipients in the fourth quarter.

Local Member Engagement

The team continues to take advantage of its close proximity to the local DC chapter of TPS, hosting happy hours with board members in the area, inviting scientists to give short lectures and engaging volunteers advocacy activities. Members of the Advocacy team helped organize Cassini end-of-missions events on both coasts to engage local members.

Looking ahead

For Q1 of FY2018, the Space Policy & Advocacy team will continue to promote its existing budgetary priorities as the FY18 congressional appropriations process (hopefully) nears its finish in December. The online advocacy petition is updated and will be shared with our members during an upcoming outreach effort in October.

The Space Advocate Training Toolkit will advance into development and production in the next quarter, in an effort to have a beta test ready before the FY19 budget release next year.

In addition, we are tracking the following issues:

  • The Senate's CJS bill would cut NASA's budget by $124 million relative to FY17, and cut the Planetary Science Division by $234 million.
  • NASA has proposed a "lean sample return" concept for its robotic Mars program. While sample return is the highest priority goal of the decadal survey, NASA's proposal runs counter to our efforts to promote a Mars Orbiter, and does not address the long-term stability of the program after MSR is achieved. We are working to understand the implications for the scientific community and to further clarify NASA's plans for MSR in order to better advocate for this issue.
  • The Society intends to closely follow the confirmation process of Jim Bridenstine and continue to engage the next Administrator of NASA to promote space science and exploration.
  • The Society intends to promote a focus of sending humans to Mars, and recent developments from the Administration regarding a return to the Moon should be understood in that context: how will a lunar mission enable Mars exploration?

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