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."
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.