Planetary Radio Host and Producer, The Planetary Society
Thirty years ago, Dr. Mark Albrecht led the National Space Council when President George H.W. Bush announced the Space Exploration Initiative, an ambitious effort to send humans to the Moon and then on to Mars. Political divisions and a budget-busting cost estimate grounded the effort before it ever got off the ground. A new National Space Council is attempting to implement a new lunar plan from the Trump Administration. Can the lessons of a failed moonshot help today's lunar ambitions succeed?
Space Exploration Initiative artist’s concept
Space Exploration Initiative artist’s concept of Space Station Freedom with the Moon and Mars.
Casey Dreier and Mat Kaplan
Casey Dreier and Mat Kaplan recording The Space Policy Edition of Planetary Radio
NOTE: This automated transcript is currently being edited by a human. Check back soon for updates.
[00:00:00] Welcome to the Mets space policy edition of planetary radio. I'm Mat Kaplan the host of planetary radio and I am sitting on a couch next to a lot of coffee at the planetary defense conference. Casey dryer is the chief advocate for the planetary Society. Welcome Casey. How's the coffee? It's free the best kind and plentiful that I have to say.
This is the first time I think we've ever done this show. Literally physically next to each other as opposed to distance but connected through the internet. I think you're right and what a place to do it in as well as we're on location. We're at the hotel at the University of Maryland, which is the headquarters for the planetary defense conference, and there won't be a break for a while.
So hopefully we won't hear a lot of coffee cups clanking, but if you do hear some noise in the background, we are literally in the [00:01:00] break area for the planetary defense conference. Speaking of planetary defense Casey. We probably could start there in a moment or two. But first our usual pitch. Do you want to start Matt you do it so well, I can never compete Beyond.
Thank you, sir. Beyond the point that I think everyone knows what's coming at this point. Well item knock them dead. I feel strongly about this we were. Oh, I don't know five or six hundred people last night doing planetary radio live, which you will hear in the next episode of The Regular Show the weekly show that'll be the May 8th episode and you will hear Bill Nye and Bruce Betts and me and Jim green the NASA Chief scientist and some other terrific scientists five from the hundreds that are attending the planetary defense conference, and we were talking to folks there.
About planetary defense and as bill says the passion Beauty and joy of space exploration. That's what we do at the planetary Society. We had a lot of members in the [00:02:00] audience. We would love to have you as a member whether you're in one of our audiences or or just enjoying them feeling proud to be contributing to this effort that has been so successful in terms of advocacy and you can do that by go into planetary dot org slash.
Check out all the different levels and all the different benefits of membership. But of course, the number one benefit is just knowing that you are part of our mission to create to educate and to Advocate which is what we'll be talking to Casey about again. Well done met that sounds great. I'll sign up sign up again.
I'm good. I am nothing if not passionate about my membership in the planetary Society. I am a member as well as a an employee same same. Yeah. I'm also a member so interesting thing too. I think what's really. Relevant is that in addition to the advocacy that we do for Planetary Exploration? We take the Bold stance at the planetary society that we don't want civilization to be destroyed [00:03:00] by an asteroid.
That's something we believe in also very strongly. I don't know. I'm kind of mild some people may be relieved at the possibility, but overall, I think it's good to not get hit by an asteroid and one of the major efforts that were ramping up at the planetary Society. Is focusing more on planetary defense as a policy problem and putting more of my time and Brendan Curry's time our DC operations in support of increased detection capabilities for planetary objects or near Earth objects and also increased policy awareness at the government and X intergovernmental level of potential asteroid threats.
So this is something that needs to happen and has been improving over the years and that's why I'm here at the planetary defense conference this year speaking of planetary defense there have been. Policy developments is part of the overall approach by the federal government to all of this and I guess at least as far as planetary defense goes there's pretty good news.
Yeah, I give some context here 10 years ago y. Let me even go back further [00:04:00] 15 years ago. Roughly the Congress passed a bill authorization bill for NASA and it said that NASA must find all asteroids a hundred and forty meters or larger. By 2020 so about 15 years that gave him to do this a hundred and 40 meter diameter asteroids is about enough to what destroy a state.
Yeah. It's certainly wipe out a big Metropolitan are pretty sizable impact so to speak and those are hard to find those are relatively small in the scale of the solar. So after giving NASA this mandate Congress followed up by giving NASA no money to do it. And so as you might imagine you can't just conjure asteroids out of thin air so to speak and so NASA has been unable they've been looking for these asteroids have been unable to find most of them.
They think at this point they found about 35 or 36 percent of what they expect to be out there. So they're not going to make this mandate and ultimately what you need to really find these small. Objects in the solar system is [00:05:00] to have a space Space Telescope looking in the infrared. Dedicated to this effort and that has been very difficult to come by.
That's a longer policy discussion. But in the meantime, what we have seen is that in the last roughly eight years that four million dollar budget is now up to a hundred and fifty million. Yeah, and that is increased a lot of support for ground-based observations for NEOS more radar observations at Arecibo Observatory.
And of course this brand new flight mission that they just confirmed this year the formal new request for Dart the double asteroid redirect test. That will practice deflecting a small moonlit of another asteroid as it swings by Earth and 2021. So we're 2022. So there has been incredible progress made in planetary defense in terms of resource allocation, but we're still at 150 million dollars.
That's what little less than 2% of NASA's entire budget. Committed to this effort. So it's very small and we still don't have the ability to search for these things in space [00:06:00] in a way that you're going to meet the Congressional mandate. So we have a long way to go still and in the program that we recorded last night in front of the audience.
We had Nancy shabbo who is the leak coordination lead for the dark Mission? We talked a lot about Dart and why this is so significant the first real attempt to see if deflecting an asteroid is even something that we can consider as a practical possibility. Yeah. I mean we talked about a lot as I go just smack it something into it and deflect the or.
Yeah, but we actually haven't tested that and so bills what's bills favorite line the that he quotes from a Boeing pilot who did a barrel roll the 707 think it's one test is worth a thousand guesses expert committees expert opinions. Okay, we have one test is worth a thousand expert opinions. So let's test slamming something into an asteroid and diverting its its orbit that's good to know in advance before we bet literally the farm the city.
The globe yeah on that effort. Should it be necessary why there's more going on [00:07:00] than this, of course by sheer coincidence. The principal investigator for Neo cam Amy meinzer is right there and gave us a wave and Neo cam was discussed a great deal last night because it is maybe the next step in what comes before you deflect them.
That's finding them and figuring out where they're headed. Yeah. It's important to know what's out there right now in order to do. You think about them Neo cam has been through a long development process. It has gone through multiple. What's called Discovery Mission competitions these small planetary science Mission competition.
It's gone up. I think three times at this point. It's made it very far along the way but has never ultimately been selected. And so the mission has been refined and refined and refined. It's hard to make it fit into a very small budget line in planetary defense But ultimately, The physics are the physics you need something to detect asteroids and infrared that means you need to keep things very cold on the detector level, [00:08:00] right?
You don't you can't have a lot of heat generated by your own spacecraft as I don't wash out your signals. You have to have a very delicately made spacecraft bus and pointing and instrumentation. It's a Space Telescope, right? There's only so much you can do. So we've been supporting this Mission the point that they're at right now is that they've kept the team of this Mission together.
By giving enough money to build a flight qualified detector the actual instrument itself and they will defer the building of the spacecraft. Don't post it until they have enough money. So better than nothing right? We're in a much better position than we could have been which was to have the team to spend and to lose all the knowledge about this highly refined Mission.
The national academies of Sciences are currently doing a study on the need for a space-based infrared. To look for asteroids that comes out in June we may be talking about that report when it comes out. It'll help give a more broad scientific consensus perspective about the need for this type of detection thing.
So this could almost give [00:09:00] the sort of oomph behind an incentive for this that the dik-dik Adel survey finding would be making this a high priority. Absolutely. Yeah that and that's the idea that you want the scientific Community formally weigh-in and and I should emphasize again. They've weighed in with multiple reports over the last 15 years about.
And for this I don't anticipate that there's anything going to be fundamentally different in what the committee ultimately comes to their consensus in but we will find out this is why we do these types of studies space is hard we talked about a lot is hard to build a spacecraft that's hard to send it into space and when it takes a long time to build it takes a long time to go into space and sometimes it just takes a long time to forge the political consensus to even get to that step one of building.
And this is why people in space business tend to be very patient. I will take 30 seconds turning from policy to say a bit more about why Neo cam is so important. It's a follow-on to neowise which Amy mines are also heads that mission and they're both infrared instruments in the whole idea Bill [00:10:00] often quotes.
Somebody saying looking for asteroids. Most of them is like looking for a charcoal briquette in the dark in the dark, but you can see them in the infrared because they radiate heat and that's why an. Telescope getting another one up there that's even more capable than me. Oh wise which was repurposed for this is going to be so important.
So yeah enough of that. Let's go on to the broader budget news. You have some things to report that have happened since we last talked. Well we talked about last time that the vice president has and the president has directed NASA to return to the Moon humans to the surface of the Moon Now by 2024.
So five years from now not even five years from now as we speak. This is obviously an ambitious effort and NASA will need more resources to achieve this and so we in this really unusual situation where even though the president's budget request came out in March and contained a proposal for NASA's budget in 2020 and the next five [00:11:00] years.
They're redoing this and are going to be submitting a supplemental budget. To enable NASA to attempt to do this lunar effort and I just want to emphasize the White House put out its proposal. A month and a half ago change their mind effectively and now we're redoing this for particularly for human space flight.
Nothing has ever happened like this before in space history. We expected this budget supplemental to come out a couple weeks ago. It has not. Yeah you were hoping it'd be we'd be able to talk about some of the details later than we thought it would come out in May 1st. And it didn't. Yeah exactly.
I hoped we could talk about this in some detail, but. In a way, it actually makes our interview coming up with Mark Albrecht more relevant because the more I thought about the situation where we have a first term president using the timing of an major anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing to make a bold statement about returning humans to the moon and then on to Mars basically a [00:12:00] Rejuvenation of the human space flight program, but also announcing it and then turning over the details to NASA.
This is very reminiscent of a previous time in history, and it's not the constellation program. This is talking about the space exploration initiative by George HW Bush the first President Bush in 1989 30 years ago right now that Initiative for those of you paying attention notice that we're not on the moon right now.
Who are we landing on Mars at this point which is what the original proposal was. It didn't go anywhere. It failed that initiative functionally fail and it was at the time the biggest presidential level commitment to space that they had had. In probably 25 years since JFK made that original moon landing speech.
So why did it fail? This is what I talked to Mark Albrecht. He actually led the National Space Council and and help develop this policy. He will talk about some of the lessons from that but I think NASA today and us today is space Advocates have a lot to [00:13:00] learn from. The space exploration initiative and why it didn't work and Mark was right at the center of this right?
I mean he was charged with making this happen for the president. He actually was and it was almost basically his idea to use the lunar Landing anniversary to return to the Moon. He the original Genesis basically can track back to him. So he was absolutely in the middle of this at working at the White House working for a very engaged Vice President Dan Quayle to time.
And again, you see all of these parallels right now. We haven't. His counsel now led by Scott pasty works with a very engaged vice president Mike Pence. It's so there's just a lot of interesting opportunities here and I really want humans to return to the moon. I want them to go on to Mars. So I don't want to see them fail again, and I actually wrote a longer piece on on planetary dot-org.
About some of these lessons as I see them by studying the history of the space exploration initiative in 1989 and why that didn't work and what NASA could try to do [00:14:00] today mainly politically but also institutionally right and strategically for how they can try to get this plan through and so we don't have another Lucy in the football situation where we think we're going to the Moon.
We talked all this rhetoric and then ultimately the resources aren't there to. We have that interview coming up in just moments. It is outstanding. I we actually recorded it. What about a week ago and I was so impressed. First of all, he's a very articulate smart and committed Guy. This is obviously a guy who really believes in space exploration as we do as Scott Pace does and the new.
National Space Council and he's very open about what he sees as where they took missteps of the places where they might have been able to handle it better but also about the resistance that he found. Yeah, absolutely and and it's easy to look back, you know and see the mistakes From perspective, right?
It's a hard thing to do to Usher some big [00:15:00] domestic legislative effort through Congress at any point. There are many more paths to failure in general. There are two success in a sense Mark is very open about his mistakes that he made looking back and giving advice now and it's not in a sense condemning the folks of SEI for messing that up because they tried their best right very smart people.
Absolutely and it's hard to do. This is where we talk about where we are now. I am skeptical that NASA can pull this off. I'm skeptical the resources will be there. Right, but there are paths to success. There's just not that many of them. And so hopefully by looking at the lessons of the space exploration initiative we can cut off a few of those Pathways that lead to failure with that we know for sure and maybe increase these odds at this can succeed and we've actually started to see even though we don't have a NASA budget out yet.
The supplemental some information has leaked and something that's really interesting to me that we know now that we didn't know when we were talking with Mark for this interview. Is [00:16:00] their proposal is to ask for all the money that they need up front over the next five years not year-to-year as they normally do through a standard budget process.
This would enable them to have a pot of money that they could spend as needed and not have to wait for the slow process of politics or election Seasons or even a changeover of a presidential. And really give a chance to succeed in this right. They have the flexibility that you really need to succeed in that it's a bold move.
I think it's a smart move. It's also politically more difficult in the short term because you're going to have to ask for five years of funding up front. It's going to sound like a lot more money. It's a big ask it is a big ass, but there is a precedent for it after the Challenger disaster the Congress appropriated about I think about 2 billion dollars or so from accounts and in the defense department.
And they gave it to NASA with basically no strings attached. Usually when NASA receives an appropriation. They have about two years to spend that money and when they gave the [00:17:00] money for endeavor to rebuild after Challenger that didn't have that restriction. So NASA delivered and ever on time and under budget.
Because they had that flexibility the money was there. So there is a precedent notably. It's easier sometimes to get political action to happen in the wake of a catastrophe then before it politically. This will be a big ask but it's not coming from nowhere. And so we're in a really interesting situation of all the times to be in space policy.
This is a really unusual and fascinating time to be following this this we have so much when we started the show. I kind of wondered are we always going to have something to talk about every month and now I wish I wish we had a Daily Show some time so we could talk about everything because there's so much we can't talk we don't have time to talk about but this is fascinating.
So as we record this hopefully by the next. Episode of planetary radio space policy Edition we will see some numbers at this point. We'll see the political situation. [00:18:00] You probably will have heard me talking about or writing about it at that point or maybe even asking you to take action if it's appropriate in line with the.
Society's principles, but right now we're in this really interesting waiting period which again very similar to 1989 after the president made the announcement to return to the moon and then let NASA figure out the details except NASA kind of screwed it up in 1989 and ask for a 500 billion dollar commitment, which.
It was a non-starter. So we'll see what that level is. So, let's see if we can learn from history by going directly to the source. And that's Mark albracht. I just before we go to it. I want to tell people as you just heard Casey say keep an eye on planetary dot-org because we're not going to talk about space policy addition at least not at length for another month until the first Friday in June but cases.
Going to continue to cover it there and you may very well be able to help with this process because we frequently look to our [00:19:00] members and the rest of you our listeners to take action about these issues and these opportunities that we care so much about and I don't have it in front of me. Do you remember the title of your most recent blog of course people can find it by looking at planetary dot-org under blogs.
In fact specifically under Casey's blog on the drop-down. Yeah. I mean, it'll be in my. In there, I think it was what did I call it? What we can learn from a failed return to the moon give us a little bit more of an introduction to Mark Albrecht and we'll start that tape. So Mark has been in the space business for almost his entire life.
He was the executive secretary of the National Space Council under George HW Bush after that he worked for Lockheed Martin's International launch Services Program starting to work with the Russians to develop a commercial launch capability with their key hardware. He has a number of awards and degrees.
I think he has a doctorate in public policy. He's very well-versed both in the political background [00:20:00] and how industry Works in space. He wrote a book about his time as the executive secretary of the National Space Council called falling back to Earth a first-hand account of the great space and end of the Cold War the Great Space Race that book I found very fascinating actually went and reread that book.
Looking and thinking about this situation with the space exploration initiative. I'll recommend another book at the same time. It's called Mars Wars the rise and fall of the space exploration initiative by Thor Hogan historian for NASA. Both of those books together, I think give a really good perspective of the struggle and effort and ways that which this effort the well-intentioned never came to be.
And so hopefully we can learn a lot from that now and we don't have to repeat the mistakes of the past. And we can succeed and see humans on the moon. If not in 2024. Maybe sometime while we're still young and sprightly. Yeah. Well speak for yourself. I just want to be around that's probably or not.
I will you in front of the [00:21:00] TV in terms of the thank you Casey here is what I hope you will agree is really delightful and fascinating conversation between Casey dryer and Mark Albert. Hi Mark. Again. Thank you for joining us here at the podcast today. I was just reading through your book falling back to Earth again and prep for this interview and I was reminded we're recording this in April of 2019.
Literally 30 years ago in April of 1989. You were in a very different situation. I I want you to step back and give us a little bit of background. What were you doing roughly around this time? What was your primary concern? And what was your even your job title? Well, thanks case. It's great being with you guys.
I think this is a great opportunity to talk about then and now because much about then is germane to What's Happening Now, although obviously there are a whole lot of new elements that are worthy of discussing and seeing how they fit together. So, let's go back [00:22:00] 1989 from a space. Let's just talk about space and space policy that Congress in 88.
Had included language in the authorization Bill the 88 NASA authorization Bill encouraging the next president who at that point obviously was unknown whether it would be George Bush and Michael Dukakis to reformulate the National Space Council, which had been instituted under President Kennedy and vice President Lyndon Johnson.
And the argument was that that in fact space policy was beginning to drift that in fact, we needed to bring some coherence and continuity. To all the activities there are things being done in the defense department. The shuttle was had launched we'd had the Challenger accident. We'd started a complimentary Expendable launch vehicle program in the Air Force to make up for the fact that the space shuttle was not going to be able to launch his many times so that it could be that in fact the national launch system, which is what [00:23:00] it was intended to be space station freedom.
At that point which it originally begun under President Reagan earlier in the 80s was experiencing a great program slippage great cost increases their even questions about the technical feasibility when they talk about a one meter centrifuge that was going to be used for biometric research. There were questions about the feasibility of actually even make that happen.
And so the Congress in 88. Knowing that there was a presidential election included in the authorization Bill the request that National Space Council be reformed and in fact when George W HW Bush was elected. He in fact said it was his intention to in fact reform the National Space counsel under Vice President Dan Quayle.
So my participation really began during the transition and the early days of the Bush Administration. When [00:24:00] Dan Quayle asked me to run the National Space Council become its executive secretary. So our immediate focus when I got there in just about this time frame as you point out in April and May of 1989, of course was to try to get my arms around what was happening in the space community in general and what would be a reasonable agenda for the new Administration?
Not only just to bring some as we say coherence and continuity to the space program. But also to figure out what direction the President and Vice President wanted to take us. So again, it's hard to go back to 1989 and remember but the cold war was not yet over. Although there were questions about the viability of the Soviet Union at the time.
The United States was in the midst of a very aggressive program on Strategic Defense Initiative. Which of course we now know ultimately broke the back and will [00:25:00] of the Soviet Union to compete and began the end of the Soviet Union as we know it. But the SDI program was very aggressive. It was trying to do things differently in space a new way to do space a lot of these things and themes sound familiar.
They were trying to do things generally faster and cheaper and better and there were a number of experiments and programs inside. The Strategic Defense Initiative that were showing results that in fact things in space could be done much faster. And in fact better and much more inexpensively than had been the routine both in the Air Force in the NASA and NASA, especially NASA.
The National Space Council doesn't just deal with civil space issues. I mean, that's the round of it. Right. So you were coming in and Congress was recommended the establishment of or the re-establishment of this in order to try to kind of provide as he said some [00:26:00] some coherence to the overall space kind of strategic role of space both in defense and civil and at the time how much was was Commerce in space part of this is what did that rise to the awareness at this point or was that still kind of in the background that?
Really in the background Bob mossbacher was the Secretary of Commerce at the time a good friend of the presidents and as a Texan, he was interested in the space program. But at that point in time Commerce really had very little to do even FAA was just in the very very beginnings of trying to figure out whether or not they would have some role and responsibility in the space launch business as commercial space launches were just at the beginning and end of the of the.
You're coming into this role as the executive secretary of the National Space Council hasn't been around in a while. Did you faced resistance from the Departments that you were tasked to organize because of that or did it very was it just strange actually [00:27:00] Casey it worked out quite. Well, obviously, the president was interested and his long-standing connection and in Texas meant that he was well aware of the Johnson Space Center and it followed it closely and have a strong interest.
In the space program, but we were blessed by a series of characters and actors in The what administration all of whom were real space enthusiasts starting with the chief of staff. John sununu reminded me from day one that he in fact got his PhD under a NASA Grant. So John sununu considered himself and is very technical technically knowledgeable very enthusiastic about the Space Program dick Darman.
The OMB director which is usually the black hat and all this because it does require additional resources was an out-and-out space fan. He was a hundred percent enthusiastic about space and when we started to make our plans and made our case to the president of [00:28:00] what we were thinking about as a proposal for an aggressive re-ignition of the Space Program dick Darman rather than being an obstacle was an absolute enthusiastic.
Brent scowcroft the National Security adviser was really consumed with President Bush and I recommend to your listeners a wonderful long book but a very important book called The World transformed by George Bush and Brent scowcroft and Brent and the president were really on a mission to define the world post-cold war.
And so he was more than happy to have the space Council and our team. Take the lead on all national security space issues of which there were many and so we had a very enthusiastic team inside the White House that was very supportive of us and what we're trying to do. I fought very few almost none that I can recall internal bureaucratic battles.
So it [00:29:00] sounds like the not just the president who you mentioned had an interest in space, but that can of came from the top of the where they reacting to that. Leadership, I guess from the from the president himself. Yeah, they recognized it and what happened Casey that was really important is the Soviet Union, of course fell shortly after President Bush took office and what then happened on the hill.
That was a critical importance which mattered why secretary of defense Dick Cheney and Secretary of Energy Admiral Watkins. I became very very interested in what we were doing was that we were in the midst of what was being called a peace dividend. We have the largest downturn almost dramatic cliff downturn in defense spending because people felt that at the end of the Cold War when the Soviet Union was disbanded that in fact the need for our defense spending would be dramatically reduced even as much as [00:30:00] 25% in a couple of years time.
So that meant there was a lot of resources and capabilities in the defense department and the department of energy that really were looking for new roles and missions. When we came up with a plan to reinvigorate the Space Program writ large by a return to the moon and then onto a mission to Mars some of the key elements were very very supported by these number one element was that rather than a competition which had been the beginning of the Mercury and Apollo program.
We would do cooperation that in fact us would show its leadership in technology and in world affairs. Complementary to what the president and Brent were doing with their new world order that the United States would lead by a new round of exploration that would. Be cooperative with allies and other partners rather than in competition with the Soviet Union, right?
Because that [00:31:00] engages the same it also just engages the same kind of work force at exactly in the ex-soviet union of the Russian Federation right that you would keep them busy peaceful exploration efforts as opposed to. Going up and using the rocket engineering skills somewhere else or from whom I right and again again informed by what we were all were impressed by the incredible technology advances by the Strategic Defense Initiative and the defense department.
We felt that there would be enormous resources available in the defense department since the Defense Initiative would be dialed back post-cold War but so much work in terms of Rapid development prototyping. In space for the Strategic Defense Initiative could be capability that would be well adapted to a new initiative.
So we encourage the defense department and secretary Cheney was very very open to applying as many defense resources. The concept of doing space [00:32:00] exploration the department of energy, of course that is responsible for our nuclear Labs Etc with Los Alamos and Livermore National Labs had enormous capability in thinking about doing space developments as they had been for the Strategic Defense Initiative and they to brought great new ideas and great capabilities to the.
So the initiative we propose to the president would be one that would be International and Cooperative rather than competitive and bilateral it would involve all of the federal government defense energy Etc to bring all our capability to bear that it would be done under a rubric of trying to do things differently in space and that it would then give New Direction for the Civil Space Program which at that time.
Consisted of the Space Shuttle which was quite frankly just laboratory experiments and low earth orbit it there was no destination for the [00:33:00] space shuttle and this program the space station Freedom, which I know will talk about in great length at this point was way over run in terms of cost way behind schedule and of questionable scientific value our proposal was to try to square that Circle.
To take all these pieces and to develop an initiative that would also give a great technology boost to the United States economy in the recognition that our defense front end R&D spending would be going down. Let's expand on that a little bit particularly the domestic political situation at the time as well because I think that's that's going to obviously be really really important to the story George HW Bush assumes the presidency in January of 89.
What kind of Congress is he facing? And what are the main political issues that are going to be dominating the discussion particularly that are going to come into play here for for this future initiative. Well, yes, first off. It was a [00:34:00] democrat-controlled senate and we had a very very powerful important Senators who were responsible things related to the space program and very interested led by and including then Senator Al Gore of Tennessee.
Who had his own aspirations for presidency? So there wasn't a great deal of enthusiasm of supporting things. That would be considered Hallmark or signature George HW Bush initiatives. There was a an ongoing fight with the Congress about the peace dividends and how rapid it would occur. We were about to tip into a recession.
And so there were questions about raising taxes or cutting spending. So on the one hand the president was fighting to keep defense spending from falling precipitously off a cliff on the other had the democrat congress was saying that Revenue enhancement would be required and that was a [00:35:00] huge consuming fight with dick Darman and President Bush and the Senate and House Democrats about whether or not.
We would be raising taxes to meet his requirements for more spending for defense. It was really not more spending for defense, but it was less rapid deterioration of defense spending. So it was a very contentious political environment. The budget deficit was also a major Topic at this point as well huge as well.
So any time the president talked about spending more money for things he have the deficit and the requirement to help an economy recover were challenges as well. So it was very contentious and our initiative his initiative fell right in the middle of all that controversy. Let's move into that now.
So we kind of have the stage set something. Also. I really important I think into this setting is that July 20th of that year was the 20th [00:36:00] anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, right? It sounds like from the reading of your book that this kind of idea that use that opportunity originated with you to say should we announce a new direction for particularly human spaceflight program at Nasa in order to tie some Visionary kind of forward-looking agenda.
This historical date is that an accurate way to describe it? Yeah, absolutely accurate. We knew the anniversary was coming and it was not that we felt compelled to do something. It was more of a natural logical opportunity to redefine the space program and I say space. I just don't mean this civil NASA program, but the entire u.s.
Space Enterprise so. We have the opportunity and we used it to move the initiative forward more rapidly. And in fact, we'll talk about this maybe too rapidly because we we began to butt heads with the NASA institution. [00:37:00] That was I will say at best. About taking on the space exploration initiative word.
We haven't really brought up yet, which is NASA and there's a reason for that obviously that we're going to we're getting to timing I think is also really interesting here because I was thinking about this again at in some ways the current situation we have now where we have the Trump Administration proposing this lunar plan.
They're facing a 50th anniversary of Apollo, but two years into their presidency his presidency versus. President Bush and in the role of the National Space Council, you only had a few months before this anniversary rolled around and so it does seem like you were pressed for time for that reason alone.
If you wanted to do something for that opportunity there just wasn't a lot of time to lay groundwork based on the presidential election. That's exactly correct. And we made many mistakes as I will point out a book. We're far from blameless and all this the anniversary is the [00:38:00] anniversary. There's nothing we can do about the date.
It is what it is. We made the case to use it as an opportunity to focus attention on this and lay out a comprehensive plan that we thought would be embraced by the public because it would be an attractive package all the elements of which I've just described NASA responded. But I kind of business I guess I called business as usual.
Whereas everything about the concept on the front end was that it would be an opportunity to redirect and revive and reinvigorate the space program. We offered NASA the opportunity to say look put everything on the table. If you need to change things if the space station is currently designed for example is not absolutely elegantly.
Focused on this new mission to get back to the moon and on to Mars make changes to it do what you need to do to bring your overall program into line with this [00:39:00] new initiative. I think NASA was threatened. They were in the middle of a period of time when the leadership was divided. They were getting signals from the people on the hill there hadn't been a great deal of attention paid.
To the simple Space Program in the latter part of the Reagan Administration other than agreeing to go forward space station freedom. So they had become habituated to seeing their Congressional leaders. A matter of fact, I remember when I came to the White House. There was an article front page article in the Wall Street Journal about King mallow guy named dick mallow who was the clerk of the house subcommittee on Space?
Basically the thrust of the Wall Street Journal article was that basically this staff person is. For the appropriation subcommittee. Bob Traxler subcommittee on space was running the space program and it was a [00:40:00] page one article in the Wall Street Journal called King mallow. The only reason I mentioned that I mean you think about that now, I mean my goodness.
It really did represent. I think conventional wisdom in the town that in fact NASA had been orphaned by the administration. There wasn't a great deal of Direction and and Leadership offered to them and they had begun to see the congressional committees Appropriations and authorizers is really the managers or board of directors and they were very skeptical that those managers and board of directors would get on board.
With this radical change in Direction, and we're really reluctant having in there for you delicately forged a consensus to support. The underlying programs of the shuttle and space station freedom and were highly reluctant to make any modifications or changes to them for fear that they would alienate the people that as far as they were concerned were the [00:41:00] ones who worried day-to-day about their Enterprise in their funding in operation and they were writing very very comprehensive language.
In each one of the bills about what NASA should do and shouldn't do much more detailed program Direction than they were getting Trump OMB at the time. And so I excuse their behavior, but the reality was rather than turning loose. The vast engine of Ingenuity and urgency that we had hoped that had existed under Apollo.
We got a very business as usual response that said we're going to do all the things we're doing at exactly the right the same pace and funding levels that we're doing now and anything you want to do anything related to this new initiative is going to be new money above the line. And of course it was tailor-made for the Congress to resist.
Let's step back cause I want to get to this point. I want to I want to talk exactly about that. So in this process of leading up to [00:42:00] July 28th, 1989, you were feeling out this idea, you'd gotten basically the approval of the vice president the president to say, we look towards something big and it was going to be returned to the moon or maybe on to Mars and it was kind of the Contours or being figured out you kind of remarkable Exchange in your in your book where.
First time you proposed this idea to NASA administrator truly maybe a little shell-shocked or basically they say no right that they say whether we can do this. I remember Terry. Well, yeah, I remember the day we were at the hotel. In some ways. I was trying to be sympathetic to truly in this like they had just come off the Challenger disaster, they'd come off from a decade of the planetary program had also almost been decimated the shuttle program had barely gotten approved by Nixon the national interest in space wasn't particularly strong in some ways.
I can see that is understandable there. Like we just got the space station, right? We're barely holding on to the space station. I just had John logsdon on a few months [00:43:00] ago talking about. Reagan policy at for NASA going into that space station decision and how long they work for it where they just worried that this wouldn't last it do you think is that part of that response or it was just no just no fact it wasn't used to thinking too big or that big again, I think both of those things and and let's see here.
First off dick truly is a great American hero terrific individual, but he was not a guy that was constitutionally ready to step up. I mean we can think a name other Nash administrators that were more than willing to step up and be aggressive and push the institution dick was more of the institution than above the.
I think he really reflected for all the reasons you accurately said was a fundamental interior concern of is this really real is this going to be Lucy in the football? We're going to put all our eggs in this bed. I'm trying to play their hand by the way. We were giving them many many re [00:44:00] assurances to the contrary.
For example, dick Darman sat down and said, hey, look I'm happy to up your budget by a billion dollars over the next several years, but. There was sort of a reluctance and skepticism and you know NASA had been sort of beaten down. It really was it needed exactly what we were offering. What's what do they say?
The first thing about recovery is you have to recognize you have a problem and I don't think NASA recognize that it had a problem. They were so pulled in and they figured hey, we've got this big initiative space station freedom. Employing lots of people good contract space shuttles operating its head hiccups.
Remember all those mysterious hydrogen leaks that were causing us to miss launch after launch. I think they were sort of pulled in in this not only caught them by surprise, but it overwhelmed your doctor doesn't public policy, right? And then it's a fascinating. Insight in a sense this kind of bureaucratic inertia that [00:45:00] develops and whenever you just have a lot of people I don't know if I wouldn't say it's necessarily part of function of government or any of that just when you have lots of people by the time everyone's aligned doing one thing.
That becomes the modus operandi to change that in any way becomes it's hard to make a big perturbation to something that has so much inertia to it. Even if you're giving them good news almost it seems like yeah, and I think one thing that was a change that occurred after our time there and as a consequence of this not only this but I think the idea that the NASA administrator works for the president is something that after our.
Became commonplace that became people understood that the NASA administrator had to work for the president of the United States and be part of the president's team. Who are they were for previously or what would maybe your impression be? Yeah. I think they work for the Appropriations committees and subcommittees and how and they their primary [00:46:00] focus was on the hill because that was giving them primarily their Direction and sustenance.
Yeah, I guess in absence of. A strong presidential hand or you know, so to speak in the budgeting process at their if they don't think that the White House has their back. I guess that's a natural right come the sense and I think people you know, there have been a number of things and no point going down this dirt road, but you know, there were a number of congressional initiatives to try to make the NASA administrator like the FBI director a 10-year appointment where Congress would be the primary determinant of their budget every year and the direction it.
Try I mean even further cleaving it away from the executive branch. And as I used to say, you can't find Nasa in the Constitution. You can find the defense department. You can find the health department, but you really can't find Nasa in the Constitution other than promote the general welfare Clause as a consequence.
[00:47:00] There's nothing really that NASA has to do. Everything that it does is purely discretionary and that's why the initiatives get so associated with the president of the administration During the period of time they're there because there's no Joint Chiefs of Staff. There's no threat assessment.
There's no NATO allies. There's no it's purely discretionary activity and that's why ultimately it doesn't come through the normal. Cabinet level grind it really is executive Authority. And that's the fact of the matter first year. Let's save the George HW Bush Administration then when you're working with.
NASA that felt maybe that it had these multiple Masters that they were trying to answer to let's just jump back to this narrative so you or talking with Admiral truly or NASA administrator truly there's hesitation at first but to clarify the next day he called you and said we're up [00:48:00] for the task. We will do this right from there on functionally.
The story is you have an XX rolls around you have kind of the broad Contours of what you'd like to do, but NASA hasn't had a clear plan and. Or you hadn't maybe what was the process of what kinds of plans were trying to have in for July 20th versus what were you using that date for? Yeah. Yeah.
Well, that's very interesting Casey. And again, we made our blunders and I would say that successive administrations have done better than we did because they didn't make our mistakes. I like to think they learn from our mistakes, but we. Turned it over and said to NASA give us a plan for achieving the president's goals that is to return to the moon and then on to Mars before the what was it the 30th Anniversary as XX XX and that was a blunder and we got no feedback from NASA.
Great guys, Aaron Cohen, you probably remember him. Listen Johnson Center Director [00:49:00] was given the task by Admiral truly to go come up with what was called the 90-day study and just to clarify was this happening before the president's announcement on the 20th or did this begin first or did this begin after the public announcement?
Well, once the president decided that he was going to do this at cetera. He in fact I think in that speech talked about the fact that we've asked NASA to give us a plan to do this. I'm not sure it's been a long time as you point out. I haven't reviewed it recently, but it was virtually concurrent.
It was like the next thing logical thing to do. Hey NASA, give us a plan of how you could do this and we were very clear to them. We wanted. Faster cheaper better. We wanted a new technology. We wanted to involve the whole government. We wanted think about International Partners at every step of the way.
We wanted to do this fast. We wanted a sense of urgency. We didn't want business as usual and it was a blunder because we got nothing back from them [00:50:00] literally until the 89th day. We kept asking and saying, how's it going? It's going great. Cool. Could you give us a peek? I mean, is there any sort of how are we doing?
You know? No I should have been a little more directive in my opinion to say hey that just won't cut it you need to have the team over here at 10 days at 30 days at 45 days at 50 days telling us exactly where you are so that we can vector and direct it. But in reality it came with a thud literally on the 89th day the size of the report was the reason why I'm kind of focusing on the timing here is what I think what I'm trying to convey to our listeners is that you effectively had the president make a public statement on the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11 committing to a big concept of returning to the moon and then on to Mars, but then turning over the actual implementation of [00:51:00] it.
To NASA that at the time did not have a clear or as we just talked about was trying to serving multiple goals of its own and so the president had already tied himself to a program that hadn't been fully fleshed-out is what I'm trying to get at. Is that an accurate? Representation of where you were?
Yeah, I think less commitment to a program then come commitment to a time frame and destination and series of anonymity has the initiative part. Yeah, and I guess because I'm sorry, like if a person's just walking by and reading headlines or following the news at the time they see that. President Bush calls for return to the moon and then this 90-day study must be what you know the next time they see what let's just give away the game here.
Yes, two men of the cost of the 90-day study was something on the order of depending on which one you chose roughly half a trillion dollars. Oh, yeah. Yeah and then that became the the yolk or are you just like that's what this was tied to this idea, right? Yep. Yep. [00:52:00] And and yeah, I mean we can get into The Tick Tock and it is fascinating.
I mean it goes really fast. You know when when they talk about football players and they talked about the NFL and they say what's the biggest difference between your college experience in the NFL and they always say the speed of the game and the really excellent players see the game actually slow down as they get more experience and become.
Excellent. And when you're in government, the speed of play is just there's so many things going on and it's coming at such unbelievable speed. It's hard to slow it down. But you mentioned this look at where we are today vice president Pence gave a speech and said in four years. I want to be back on the moon.
He didn't have a specific plan. He didn't have a budget. He just said I want you to do it and what did he do? He turned a gym bridenstine and said, Give me a plan to do this by any means and this is literally why I was [00:53:00] riding on this so hard right? This is what it was actually that speech and then waiting for the delivery that made me reach out to you about this because I feel like we actually found ourselves now back in the situation and so much now is going to depend on the initial.
Monetary kind of concept that's aligned with this original proposal. Let's just jump back real quick to SEI of and and I really do want to make the comparisons here. But yeah that was to fill out the story with SEI then so the NASA the 90-day study comes out, you know, we don't have to go into all the details.
But basically it was maintained the shuttle as it is finished space station Freedom think of all the moons and build a heavy-lift. Yeah, exactly. I so to maintain those two programs build a heavy-lift shuttle Orbiter the Mac the. See her go see then a moon base and then Mars and you estimated the cost over something like a 30 year time frame, right?
Right and anything over 30 years sounds [00:54:00] expensive. Yeah, I always point this out to people like the National Park Service and 30 years will spend over a hundred billion dollars. Yes. Yeah. That's just for Parks not slow you down. Oh, you've got it just right it's how it is exactly the cost of the car.
But how do you express those costs as deviations from the Baseline plan? I mean after all at that point we were spending close to 17 billion dollars a year on NASA. So simply doing nothing else Milling around smartly for 30 years was going to generate 300 billion dollars of expenditures. So so our big disappointment Casey was that there was no innovation imagination.
None of the the watchwords that we had. You have to consider where included in it. The space station had the same, you know, 1 meter centrifuge, which is completely unnecessary for this purpose had all the kind of Observatory stuff. Everything was going along [00:55:00] absolutely with this as an overlay. So every dollar they felt associated with this exclusively would get charged to the SEI budget.
It was soda just makes it really easy to cancel and conquering because you can basically say. We just won't do that part and everything else will be unchanged. Exactly. And in fact, you know my good friend Bob Walker at the time told me that in fact the NASA people up on the hill were by and large talking about the initiative in the third person IE.
That's the president stuff. You know, we're here to talk to you about our Baseline programs our exploration programs and other this is an R. That's and the other thing and then there's this other stuff over here. There really wasn't an embracing of it and I do want to talk about where we are today and why things are different and how I think at least in some small part.
They're informed by our experience. It goes longer and Bush, you know you all on the National Space Council you tried to bring up other Alternatives [00:56:00] try to emphasize. This was a starting point, but kind of the die had been. I feel like looking back to die have been cast with that report. That kind of always is going to be a half a trillion dollar plan.
From what I understand Congress basically surgically removed all the money proposed for SEI over the next few years is that all that was right wasn't all of it, but it was it was treated as a separate category of expenditures and we we got less than 20% of what was requested. What's worse it never became the central organizing theme of NASA during this period of time which eventually required us to say.
Hey, we need to get a leader over there who gets it. I mean that's in today's parlance, but you know who gets it we had to do it and that was painful and it took time. And all in all the meantime, we were not making any progress. I do want to mention one other thing Casey two important differences.
Number one is again with the peace dividend the [00:57:00] defense department and the department of energy had assets and resources that really they at the leadership level Cheney and Watkins wanted to be involved in this eagerly not dragged kicking and screaming and the other thing is that we had essentially no.
We're so blessed with the activities today by the commercial companies whether they're Jeff Bezos or Elon or the Sierra Nevada team or straddle launcher Richard Branson, none of that existed and so in a sense, there was no alternative. There was only one place. To go to get this Mission started an accomplished and that was the federal government and that was being led by NASA.
So today there are alternatives. That's all right. Yeah and and using the standard Contracting practices golf ball kind of Aerospace style contracts and and I reading Thor Hansen's book Mars Wars it covers this as well. He talks a lot about how National Space Council was pushing [00:58:00] for do things a new way a new way of doing business, but was never really.
Clarify it, right and in some ways it's hard to pull out a new way of doing business out of thin air right get that does take time to say is there a different way to go about. Going to the Moon particularly for an ass that had just done it 20 years ago a certain. All right. Absolutely. Yeah Casey and again, let me tell you we spent we did something called the national Aerospace plane, which was going to be a joint DOD NASA program that was going to develop a large vehicle that would go from a standing stop to orbit and return with a winged.
And it was a joint DOD NASA program. It also did not make it to the final and the whole argument was of course the Holy Grail of launches reuse ability because it's so bloody expensive. I mean again at the at the end depending on how you calculated each spot shuttle [00:59:00] launch cost anywhere from two hundred and forty million dollars to four hundred million dollars, depending on how you did the account.
Reusability was always the Holy Grail. Well boys have been a lot easier for me to make the cases on a lot of these things. You know, like what are you talking about Mark? I don't understand what this faster cheaper better stuff is all about if I had had Elon Musk out there launching space. And Landing after having several failures but landing successfully the first stage core Falcon back on Earth.
You know, what do they say one Peak is worth a thousand finesses, you know, you can just go. Well, what about that? We had no such things. We had nothing that we could point to to say. That's what we're talking about other than a handful of experiments and demonstrations in the Strategic Defense Initiative Program that were showing that things could be done much faster and much cheaper and in fact yield a better result.
[01:00:00] Right and I do think that's a critical difference in let's start making some comparisons now because that again why I think it's so interesting. So I wrote a piece on planetary Society website at the other week kind of grappling with how how to feel about this announcement because it is aggressive a five-year timeframe to return humans to the surface to the Moon.
It does have this X Factor though. Of the whole commercial enterprise system that as you we just talked about just has not existed before it hasn't had a chance to fail yet in the yeah, right. We it's so there's there's a they're really interesting opportunities there. I mean, we have the situation where you know, we had space policy directive one back in 2017.
The president directed NASA Return To The Moon unlike last time. I guess you had some print, you know, I was thinking about this personnel as policy right sealed saying the NASA administrator now. I'd say you would put him into the gets it category. Yep. I would guess I do that is correct.
Absolutely and also human [01:01:00] he came in late, but at the same time that prevented with an acting administrator very different kind of political situation tried it. Yep. And so you acting administrators kind of keeping the seat warm knows their time is limited doesn't have a necessarily, you know, you don't have that kind of personality conflict that came in.
And something else is interesting to me to is. I think the economic situation is much different. So I was actually pulling up some numbers before I talk to you today unemployment was higher but it was also the GDP was shrinking so that the GDP is actually not too different but it was on the way down.
And if so, I imagine it's the direction you feel the GDP more than what it is necessarily if it's going up or down and now we've had a growing GDP slightly Hood 2 to 3% GDP right now. Versus a 2% on the way down to a recession. Yep, even that this I wonder if that kind of feeling of the economy's growing doing well.
Does that do you think psychologically that helps [01:02:00] Congress except? More expenditures for something like this. I it's interesting point. I have to think about it. It's not it doesn't leap out to me because in the 1960s to right though, you had a huge you had lots of GDP growth in the 60s and that really helped I think pay for the space probe at certain points.
I yeah, I don't know the answer either is. You can tell me with your doctorate in these things. No, but but I think I think one of the new elements that do confound and make this a different situation and I want to I want to we're going to get to where we are today and why I'm modestly optimistic that they're not going to go down exactly the same road we.
It is in fact the development of the independent commercial space companies. They have their own constituency on the hill and it doesn't cut necessarily in the same direction of some of the older ones. I mean, generally if you're thinking back in the 70s and 80s large defense contractors were [01:03:00] more or less aligned with Republican.
I mean, this is a very broad brush stroke and they're very competent and they made friends on all sides of the aisle Etc. But as a broad brush stroke the new commercial space guys as much as anything are very favored by many of the Democrats. You know, you're not having the old alignment here and so to the extent the administration utilizes and relies on the the new space Enterprises or involves Etc.
It's not going to necessarily cut in my opinion the same way as it did in the past in terms of a traditional Aerospace initiative. And so I think there's some hope there that there's going to be more openness to. Idea, when it finally gets developed and presented about what it is how it is and how much it's going to cost and there's [01:04:00] legitimate differences in ways of doing business because of the Contracting changes or dissimilarity is between a cost-plus contract and your Milestone based contract, right?
You can absolutely literally did the government does not have as much insight into right every decision and so they can move a little faster can. You build a commercial supported lunar lander. I don't know but we don't know it can't work this way. I suppose I mean, it's the other thing I just to look at politics something else.
That's different right now Rod similarities obviously are kind of interesting to write. We're facing a new anniversary of Apollo. Yeah, um, we have a white house as is indisputable e interested in space obviously a very strange even to the role of the vice president right kind of feeling your Quail leading this face Council obviously into it.
But at the same time you you do have a democratic controlled House of Representatives. We have a Republican Senate, right and I would argue that we don't. At least in on Congress right now. [01:05:00] There's an acceptance of spending money a little more right now than there was back in 89 and so I was I think I was looking at the number.
What would the deficit 89 is projected be a hundred and eighty nine billion. How quaint for those days I think yeah and putting aside all the politics on the deficit. There's a willingness to continue to waive those budget Control Act caps. I think we just saw the best McConnell's going to be making a deal with Pelosi on that.
The monetary issue is kind of at least for the next couple of years theoretically loosened, right so we actually have a role and so I'd be really curious to hear, you know, going back to kind of what we just talking about. There's some fertile ground, but what I'm worried about I'll tell you what I'm worried about this.
Yeah, and she'll difference which is what happened. I think last time is that in you brought this up that the Democratic party or you know this wood and it would be the flip side of this had been a democratic Initiative for Republican. By embracing this as a goal of the administration you'll going to [01:06:00] induce opposition in the opposition party literally by definition like the president being the leader of his party.
Yep. And so to stymie that there's going to be a lot of incentive I should say for the Democrats in the house or at least maybe broadly maybe not the ones around the space committee, but just broadly to say why should we give this? A win to this to the president. Do you see that being a major hurdle going forward despite the role of commercial space kind of being more accepted in Democratic circles.
It certainly they're going to be an element of that. I think he'd be unrealistic to think that the Congress particularly the house in this environment and quite frankly even in the Senate with some of the members are going to just say whatever the president wants to do. Yeah, we want to do that. I agree with you that that will be a headwind but there are also potential tailwind and of one of them as we described as a general non-partisanship associated with the new space.
As there was a period of time that the Obama [01:07:00] Administration. In fact did a lot of things that institutional NASA didn't like the commercial crew program the commercial cargo program those who looked at with great skepticism inside. So here you have the Obama Administration the fact that the SpaceX was allowed to be certified and compete for National Security space.
Is in a way different than they had done in the past again in a bomb Administration initiative. So in some sense you have these new players not carrying the baggage. Kind of institutional baggage that the players had before, you know, the Rockwell's and the Boeing's Etc. And so that's going to be a bit of a Tailwind because to the extent those people are incentivized or included or enthusiastic about it, or he'll willing to pitch in resources.
Which is a new thing imagine that I mean, there are three ways to finance something like this, even though we don't know what the number will be. There's new money which we talked about. [01:08:00] There's repurposed money and in my case in our case back in 1989. NASA was completely unwilling to repurpose any money.
I think there will be participation by repurposing money inside NASA and then there's contributed money whether that's in kind by International Partners or. Investments by commercial companies. Those are all sources being able to close the business case on this new initiative also mentioning Tailwinds that you have an advantage to this kind of the two major institutional programs kind of the old school Aerospace intersection with congressional districts service.
That's in a Ryan. Are actually feed directly into it too. So, I mean those have been under development there. You know, I'd say we're seeing a lot of discussion about whether SLS will be part of this plan. But I think we're seeing this [01:09:00] basically outcome of saying well, we better we have to double down on it as the only way we're going to do it.
But at least an institutionally the protective thing to do would be to give these big projects a clear role in this plan versus shuttle and station which were only ever. Be in low earth orbit, right? So you have exactly in some sense. The institution itself is motivated. If they want to protect those interests to embrace this plan.
Yeah, I think that's exactly right. I mean there was some art in the design of some of these things. I think administrator bridenstine is already said look we are not going to. Raise a repurpose resources from SLS and Orion big sigh of relief to the you know, the institutional. Okay. We're not going to take any money for SLS not going to take any money from Ryan on the other hand the challenge Pride.
The sign says is if you're ready there to meet this requirement good on you, but if you're not. The vice president sit by any means and we will [01:10:00] achieve his objective or at least to our dead level best to achieve his objective and if it doesn't include those elements because they're not ready then it won't.
That's a fair game. That's all you could expect and I think it's a very reasonable set of boundary conditions. And in the second I want to talk about one of the things that I know will come up here is if you look at the as Norm Augustine said the record unblemished by success of presidential exploration initiatives after Apollo there really is one success in there.
That doesn't get much discussed and to my thinking if. This new initiative of 2024 is going to succeed. It will follow that model rather than the space exploration initiative model or the vision for space exploration model or the Obama guys that adopted well, the Orion was an asteroid Mission or something like that and it's so under the radar.
I guess [01:11:00] that's the best example that it didn't have this presidential tag on it. And it's the International Space Station. By the way, I'm sure you'll have Dan or George on if you haven't you should that their stories are wonderful and amazing but I mean, they're literally very predictably and as per usual when the.
Clinton-gore Administration came in very shortly after they took office Al Gore in the head of OMB. I've gotten his name in that Administration called Dan Goldin, who was then the NASA administrator and said hey on Monday, we're announcing the cancellation of space station Freedom done finished and he went through all the arguments that we always make.
Oh my gosh will then we don't have a destination. What do we do with the shuttle? We're out of the human exploration business. We have no vision. We have aha. And basically Dan said give me a weekend give me until Tuesday of next week to come with a plan to you that would be accomplished in [01:12:00] four years and cost only two only would cost two billion dollars a year and they said well, what is it because I had no earthly idea, but give me till Tuesday.
And he and George Abby and Tom Stafford and a group of people spent the weekend burning up the phone lines. And what they did is they took the resources that existed and put them out on the table not on going NASA contracts what in the spit what in the world is out there that works and functions today that we could Cobble together and call space.
And very quickly they discovered and Tom was able to call his colleagues in Russia that there was in fact a power module backup for the Mir space station that was essentially done and ready to go. There were already large fields of solar arrays for space station Freedom that Lockheed Martin already had they were done.
They were just sitting there and they literally tinkertoy [01:13:00] this together and what came out of it was. No longer space station Freedom the International Space Station and Gore and Clinton to their credit. And of course the enormous hard work of Dan and George and Tom Stafford a great team of people came up and we started it and we have a space station on orbit today that would not have happened but it was it is no long.
It is not son of son of space station freedom is nothing to do with it. So there is a model out there that says, These sorts of things can be done and maybe they will follow some example like that. And so this will no longer be the Donald Trump Moon Mars initiative. This will be the let's get back to the Moon in four years initiative that starts from freshen a new and doesn't have the who owns the space station free.
I mean in reality. It was a Clinton administration that approved [01:14:00] this new thing and it was not space station Freedom, which they said is to cancel that example people don't even think about and I guess the best reason they don't think about it is because you can't identify it. I mean, yeah, I bet you if you ask people who gets credit for space station for International Space Station that kind of scratch their head and go on I sure who gets hurt.
So there you go. There's the example. And George W bush finished it and I mean technically finished under Obama I suppose but it is carried through I am a little surprised actually to hear you use the space station as an example of the right way to do business just because I know people critique that for being so expensive and being so delayed and you know now it's why do we keep it going?
You know, what point does it finish its Mission but that's another story. Yeah. Okay, but that your your point is in terms of how. It's exceeded over time and I think that's an interesting Insight. I hadn't heard it put that way, but I find [01:15:00] that very compelling. You're right. I normally do not associate the space station with with Clinton's Legacy because it kind of moved it.
I mean, I guess they didn't even launched the first piece until 98 99. Yeah for the situation we find ourselves in now. Would you recommend to the White House that they step back from messaging on something like this in order to try to dissociate a return to the Moon? I mean because that's the other question is people are saying why 2024 it's certainly the last year of what would be the president's second term.
Is the very date itself do you think going to be seen as a political? Yeah, but potentially I don't think that they were going to be able to airbrush away completely the administration but it depends on how they do it at promoted and what it what it consists of and I don't even want to what I'm saying is I don't know what it's going to look like, but [01:16:00] I suspect it's going to look different.
Then what's considered the Baseline exploration program now not separate from it that continues apace as Jim bridenstine is said but this is a bit of a one on this 2024 objective is a bit of a one-off. It'll have a lot of utility for the longer-range program and it may use components may be significant components of the long-term program, but it's going to meet its objectives with an architecture that is.
Potentially different than what most people are looking at. Now the way I guess the way that you're putting it through it. I feel like we're almost walking into the same situation that NASA found itself 30 years ago, which is if we're not changing any of the programs of record and we're adding on something.
New and we've heard Mr. Bridenstine kind of talk about. Well, we can't go after you know, X Y or Z in terms of NASA because that's just politically unfeasible. Are they walking into the same [01:17:00] political trap of adding to NASA's budget as opposed to reorienting programs within it? That's the challenge they will make their own decisions and recommendations and and we will see but certainly there are people that are.
Advising them that all of these lessons and rules think carefully think about repurposing think about utilizing things that you already have. And again, don't let perfect be the enemy of good enough to get it done. Hmm. And so we'll see. I mean, I think there will be an clearly International component.
They'll be a commercial component. It will be a different Critter and a different Beast what its ultimate price tag is and again when you look at the three elements of resources either new money, which of course there will be some repurposed money to be D and contributed. Or in-kind contributed resources, whether their Investments by some of these [01:18:00] private companies for their own purposes or their in-kind contributions from International Partners.
All of that will make up with the total commitment is in terms of resources, and I actually think it's kind of an interesting move to have. A five-year limit the other aspect of this in terms of cost. I kind of feel like again so much of this is going to depend on what what are those Top Line headlines going to look like we have supplemental comes out but there's an advantage here because we're talking about 2024 it fits within the OMB five-year Baseline plan to find but also we're not talking about 30 years.
Yeah, right. And and if so say you add 4 billion a year for five years. It's still 20 billion dollars, but that sounds a hell of a lot better. Then 200 billion dollars or even a hundred billion dollars, right? Absolutely. Absolutely and you know, you can get so much more for your money these days.
I mean, you know, come on let's look at what what the [01:19:00] Air Force and NASA have been used to pay for launch Services. I mean again when you use the shuttle and I don't mean to bang it. I love the shuttle. Oh, so you're a huge engineering achievement and I'm a marvelous vehicle. Love it to death, but.
Cold hard truth is depending on how you account for it each launch of the Space Shuttle cost anywhere from 240 million to 450 million dollars. Wow. That's that's pretty stiff. If you want to launch that six times a year just do the math. That's. Gas and and refurbishment and we can do those launch missions.
I mean SpaceX is charging a lot less. The Air Force has got a program with new initiatives in it that you know, the price of launch is coming down and that's a huge component of all this. I wonder also because of this style of Contracting methods that were using now we're starting to find ways to build in an acceptance for failure at I don't know if we've quite demonstrated that yet.
I was thinking about this in the [01:20:00] context of watching the bereshit Lander attempt to get to the Moon it failed. They said well, we're going to do it again and when you're building a hundred-million-dollar spacecraft you can do that, right and particularly when you were working at the space Council and those that era.
Yeah, the Hubble problem of a multibillion-dollar right? And then Maria server a billion-dollar spacecraft has disappeared and that was a whole point of better faster cheaper, right and a sense until I think we found the limits of that with the twin failures in 99 of the to Mars missions. They weren't cheap enough.
I suppose to to accept a double failure. But if there's a way to make it cheap enough without risking, I mean, this is easier said with cargo but. Can we fail and that was you know going back to that Apollo mindset? We failed all the time in the 1960s, right and the lunar surveyor missions or Ranger.
We took him like six times even hit the Moon. Yeah, no. No, you're right. And again, it's really hard to talk about this without [01:21:00] recognizing the fact that any loss is horrible and if it involves human life, it's just unacceptable, but there's somewhere between the risk of exploration. And doing new and unbelievable things and the sanctity of every single life and it can never happen.
You can never have a single law. So I mean Richard Branson and his team they lost the pilot. It was terrible, but they got back up on their feet and they're they're launching again. There is going to be a new taste at a new expectation about what level of risk is acceptable when you're doing commercial thing.
We're having commercial people and volunteers participate. You know, I remember one time Elon told me we were in one of these panels back in the day when he was just starting and I was running iOS we were talking about human rating and the risk to human life and Ilan said, do you know how many people have died on Mount Everest?
Of course, I [01:22:00] didn't and he said almost 500 people have died. In fact every every year there are 10 or 15 people who died on Mount Everest there rich people who paid enormous amount of Monies to go do something that is completely discretionary voluntary and Recreation. And they die doing it many of them and you can't even find it in the newspaper.
So if you if you find a person who's willing to pay $250,000 to strap themselves for a rocket that we do our dead level best to perform and we have an accident it materially what's the difference between that and a very wealthy person. Going for a trip to try to climb Mount Everest don't we might be putting that to the test here sooner than we think with blue origin with your history that the National Space Council and being in a similar role, you know, is there anything that publicly at this point that you would say to Scott pace and Jim bridenstine and everyone else who want to see this [01:23:00] work particularly in this period were the announcement of intent has been made.
But the details haven't been set is there what was what do you think is the most important thing for them to keep in mind in this period absolutely simple and straightforward and that is act like a team be a team. Keep each other totally informed share what you know, the minute that you know it so that everyone participates in the critical decisions that lead to ultimately what it is you propose and how you plan to implement.
No surprises exactly. Yeah, but you have to act like a team no, no hiding under the nut, you know, you you have to make sure all cards are face up on the table for everybody to see. That's how you're going to get an initiative. That is well understood is body into and the president and vice president can give clear direction to go go to it.
If they don't [01:24:00] so Mark as we kind of established. You've seen a lot of these proposals over the course of your of your lifetime and career. How do you feel then? I guess about this. Yeah. I like just to put you on the spot. No, I appreciate that, you know, and I'm mildly optimistic. There are huge pitfalls there are undeniable head winds, but there are things that are different this time that I think and again and I don't want to get into a dirt road here, but there's a whole lot going on in the defense side with the Space 4 space Corps and Cetera.
There are a lot of moving Parts in America's space program today lot of moving parts and the clear. Clearly defined an independent swim lanes for activities are getting blurred. And so I think there's also opportunity even the way we tried to involve the whole government. In initiatives in a way that everything has been stoked.
I pretty successfully I think even on the dod side. There [01:25:00] are a number of stove pipes that are coming down and I think when you look at that together and again, you take a model that says, let's take all the pieces. That currently exists not made up not on paper but exist and let's put them on a table and say can we cobbled together a capability to go cheap this objective?
I'm mildly optimistic that when you put all those things together, there's going to be a combination that works. Is it going to be different than it is in the past? Are there DOD potential resources that exist that would be applied to this problem. Maybe I don't know. I mean, I honestly don't know Casey I'm not playing Coy with you.
I don't know what they're working on. But I know they are taking the vice president's charge to do this by all means necessary very seriously and that gives me a cause for some mild. I'm with you. I think well, dr. Mark Albrecht I want to thank you so much for joining us today on the space [01:26:00] policy addition.
We'll have to have you back sometime. Love to do a thanks so much Casey. So that was Mark Albrecht the former executive secretary for the National Space Council to another generation talking with the chief advocate for the planetary Society Casey dryer who is back here sitting with me on the couch outside the planetary defense conference.
Great conversation Casey. Yeah, that was the fun one. I really enjoyed his insight and openness about that period of history and again very very relevant to where we are now. So I hope other people are paying attention. Yeah. Absolutely. Let's just say again because we won't be talking at length for another.
That between now and then people should keep an eye on planetary dot-org because we're hoping to see this so-called supplemental budget. Absolutely. So I will be following this very closely as you might imagine and it is my intent to make sure all of you are informed with the best analysis and insight for how this moves forward.
And to you know, possibly help make it happen counting on you Casey, but [01:27:00] based on past performance. I have total Faith. Thank you very much for joining me here at the planetary defense conference and getting out this month's edition of the space policy Edition. Yeah, we should say Matt has the is also the producer of this show and his other show and traveling to do multiple live shows at the same time.
So I'm amazed that we could get this opportunity here at planetary defense while we're both traveling we crossed paths. In the night so to speak so forgive the background noise of our hotel staff clearing up the buffet lines behind us, but we don't have normal access to our recording studios, but such as the ways of a dynamic and active organization that show biz and we are on location at the University of Maryland College Park where the planetary defense conference.
One more pitch folks join us at planetary dot org slash membership stand behind all of the great work that Casey does that Brandon Currie does on our behalf those of [01:28:00] us who believe in the importance of space exploration and planetary defense for that matter. It's only saving the world is Bill would say you can do that a planetary dot org slash membership.
It is the best way to become part of what we do to join our little family. Of explorers couldn't agree more Casey. Thanks so much once again, and I will talk to you in a month. If not before sounds good. Always the part of the Glamorous aspect the planetary Society more more couch interviews. Yeah and and podcast and free coffee and free copy.
That's why I do this job gotta have the perks. That's Casey dryer Chief advocate for the planetary Society talking like a member of the media about free food. I know percolated Prix. Yes, I like that. That's a personal experience. By the way. I'm at Kaplan the host of the weekly the regular edition of planetary radio, and we will be back on Wednesday May 8th.
If you're hearing this before then with our show recorded [01:29:00] in front of a live audience here at the University of Maryland College Park talking about planetary defense that will be planned rad live. Thanks so much for joining us everybody, Ad Astra.