Planetary Radio Host and Producer, The Planetary Society
As the 2010s come to a close, Marcia Smith, the founder of Space Policy Online, rejoins the show to explore the most significant and impactful space policy decisions of the 2010s. Mat and Casey also discuss the recently-approved European Space Agency budget, and what it means for planetary defense and Mars sample return efforts.
Mars Sample Return components (ESA concept)
This artist's impression shows multiple components of the proposed NASA-ESA Mars Sample Return program: NASA's Mars Ascent Vehicle (left), ESA's Earth Return Orbiter (center), the Mars sample canister (top), and the Earth entry capsule (right).
ESA / K. Oldenburg
Mars Sample Return overview infographic (ESA)
This overview of the ESA–NASA Mars Sample Return mission shows launches of the Mars 2020 rover, the Sample Retrieval Lander, and Earth Return Orbiter. The Mars 2020 rover collects samples and leaves them in canisters on the surface, and possibly visits the retrieval lander directly. The lander deploys a fetch rover to collect the Mars 2020 samples and deposit them in an ascent vehicle, which blasts into Mars orbit. There, a return orbiter collects the samples for transport back to Earth.
ESA – Science Office
Hera scans DART's impact crater
This artist's rendering shows ESA's Hera spacecraft over the moon of asteroid Didymos, examining the impact crater caused by NASA's DART spacecraft. DART will intentionally crash into Didymos' moon in 2022 to test an asteroid deflection technique.
Mat Kaplan: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the December, 2019 Space Policy Edition of Planetary Radio. I'm Mat Kaplan, the host of this program. Well, of host of Planetary Radio. And it is my pleasure as you, most of you know, once a month to also sit down with Casey Dreier, Chief Advocate for the Planetary Society. Though when we sit down it is usually, oh, I don't know, about a thousand miles apart. But I have the great pleasure of actually sitting across from you today in the lovely Planetary Society studio in downtown Pasadena.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. Ironically, neither Mat nor I spend that much time in, [laughs]-
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: ... the headquarters 'cause we live in different parts of the country. Uh, but we are crossing paths in the night here [00:01:00] or, uh, through the board meeting here at the Planetary Society this week. And what a perfect time to come together and talk in person. And Mat, I can confirm you have a face for radio.
Mat Kaplan: [laughs]. Thank you much Casey, it takes one to know one.
Casey Dreier: [laughs]. Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: No, it's, it's, it really there is, I mean, I always have a great time. Uh, most of the people I get to talk to on the show, I do not see their faces unless at some point later, maybe I'm lucky enough to meet them. But it's always better to be sitting directly across the table from somebody. So little holiday treat for you and hopefully for our audience.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, it's always fun to be here, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: We will open with our usual pitch because we know that, uh, well, a minority of you out there are behind this program and behind everything else that the Planetary Society is up to because you are a member. But sadly that means that the preponderance, the majority of you are not, not yet anyway. Would you take a look at [00:02:00] planetary.org/membership and look at the benefits there. Look at all the different levels you can come in at and become a part of this society that has a- among its mission objectives, the stuff that keeps busy, keeps Casey busy day-to-day, advocating for space exploration and space science really across the world. But especially in Washington, D.C.
And not just Casey, but, uh, our, our colleague Brendan who is also in town for the board meeting today. We hope that you will consider it and of course you will be helping us to keep bringing you Planetary Radio as well. That's my pitch. You may have other things to add. I know you've still got a day of action coming.
Casey Dreier: We do. Yeah. Well, I was just gonna mention it is the holiday season. What better gift you can find underneath the tree or the menorah or whatever holidays you enjoy than a gift, a gift subscription to, uh, Planetary Society as a membership. So someone you love or care about that loves space, give them a membership to the [00:03:00] Planetary Society and give them access to the planetary report. All of the great stuff that we do and that special glow.
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: That special feeling that you have.
Mat Kaplan: It's a cosmic glow. [laughs].
Casey Dreier: Yes. There you go, yes, it's the, the cosmic background radiation equivalent of the satisfaction to know that you are doing something special to help space exploration happen merely by being a member of this unique organization. So consider that. I will also plug the day of action still open for registration. Those who want to join us in Washington DC, planetary.org/dayofaction February 9th and 10th of 2020. Also, for those of you who can't come to Washington DC and those of you outside the United States, we have a new option for you. Same website, planetary.org/day of action. You can pledge to take action remotely and we will follow up with you online after you sign up so that on that day, on February 10th when your fellow members of the Planetary Society are out pounding the pavement in Washington DC, that you will have actions to take to [00:04:00] email members of Congress, share things on social media, things that you can do to help them feel great and to know that the entire organization is behind them. So pledge to take action if you can't be there or join me in Washington DC.
Mat Kaplan: I love it. Virtual advocacy in your pajamas.
Casey Dreier: Yes, it's the, the modern era that we live in. What an opportunity.
Mat Kaplan: It is. Uh, all right. We have a few news items to cover, very significant ones, particularly for the European Space Agency, but I do wanna tease people a little bit because we have the return actually of a, of a terrific guest.
Casey Dreier: Oh yeah. Marcia Smith. Some of you may know her already, if you don't, you should. Marcia Smith has been part of the space policy community for decades at this point. She runs, she founded and runs the online websites spacepolicyonline.com. Great source of policy information and, and news and analysis. She's gonna join me to talk about something that I actually just realized not that long ago Mat, that this is not only the end [00:05:00] of the year, this is the end of the decade. This is the end of the 20 teens, the 2010s, however you want to call them. We don't have to care anymore 'cause it will be awkward-
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: ... [crosstalk 00:05:09] awkward the framing of it where we will be moving past here in just a minute. So I asked Marcia to share with me and with you what she thought were some of the most important space policy developments of this last decade. And I had mine kind of list as well. We compared notes and shared some really interesting insights into the last 10 years of space policy, and I think you'll really enjoy that conversation. It was a lot of fun to have it with her and she, she brought up some really interesting, uh, insights into that.
Mat Kaplan: And no kidding. I mean, I was listening in as the two of you spoke and got to hear it a second time. Since then, since I had to assemble the show. It's great. So stick around folks. Like I said, we do have some news items. Before we get to the good news for the European Space Agency, and really for everybody, all space enthusiasts. What's happening in DC?
Casey Dreier: [laughs]. A lot, uh, a [00:06:00] lot not connected with space. So here's the situation. So the, the, the fiscal year of the United States government began in October 1st, we do not have a budget yet for NASA or any other agency in the federal government. The government is still open and that means we are in a continuing resolution, we're basically extending last year's budget and carrying it forward temporarily to keep operations moving forward until the U.S. Congress can agree on final appropriations legislation for all federal agencies. We are in this stop gap. We have a time until December 20th. This is when the current extension ends. And so Congress either has to pass all of its appropriations bills in the next three weeks before Christmas or they will have to pass another continuing resolution to extend that into the following year.
Now, obviously there are things like impeachment happening that throw a lot of things into the cogs of machine of government here. So things are going to be slowing down. Some progress has been made. There's an [00:07:00] agreement between the house and the Senate for overall spending levels at a very high level. Uh, there were called the allocations that are agreed on. That helps, but we don't know when or if we will have a budget before the 20th. And of course, whatever Congress passes has to be signed by the president. So we're in a very much waiting stage every day that we spend not having a budget for 2020, NASA is unable to start new programs. So anything proposed in 2020, that means the RDMS efforts to the moon. Uh, that means we're like kicking up Mars sample return and a number of other programs, they cannot really fully formally begin those because they do not have spending authority granted to them by Congress.
Fortunately though, overall NASA is in a relatively good position with this. NASA can also not end the programs during a continuing resolution. So even-
Mat Kaplan: Even once they might wanna win.
Casey Dreier: Yes, that's exactly true. And the White House proposed to cancel the WFIRST space telescope and a number of other missions, uh, in the 2020 budget. But NASA cannot stop [00:08:00] any of those because they are in a continuing resolution from the previous year. So all of these programs are kind of in this weird state of limbo until Congress finally is able to pass a budget. So we are still waiting. We've been mentioning, [laughs], waiting now for three months. Uh, we will check in, I guess in January. And see what action is taken then. And of course we will cover any of that information on planetary.org when and if it happens.
Mat Kaplan: So maybe there will be more news. I mean, they'll at least be another one of these CRs in place by the time we talk again. The first Friday in January.
Casey Dreier: Hopefully, unless you want to shut down for Christmas.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Well, we'll, we'll talk about that.
Casey Dreier: [laughs]. Okay.
Mat Kaplan: Um, let's go on to crossing the pond and talking about what's going on with ESA, the European Space Agency. I got to talk about this a little bit because it was covered by our friend and colleague Jason Davis, our, our, the editorial director here who puts together the downlink now every week at planetary.org And the top three items in the downlink all came out of this recent [00:09:00] meeting by, well, basically the people who oversee ESA, right? And, and it was all good news.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, it was the, the member States of ESA got together in what they call a ministerial meeting that happens every two to three years. ESA, unlike NASA is able to have a slightly more refined sense of how they do budgeting. They have mandatory spending. That tends to be for science missions that every member nation has to contribute a minimum amount to. So they have a very stable amount of science funding. Then they do a kind of additional sub types of efforts beyond that for exploration and other, they call it the space safety and security. Uh, they have to get, they kind of have to lobby their members, the nations to kind of contribute to support those as well. And then you have a variety of other ways that they contribute missions.
But the overall big picture here is that they tend to do budgeting in two to three year increments at ESA, and they just passed or got buy in from the member States from this ministerial meeting that just happened a week ago to a have a three-year budget of about 12.5 billion, [00:10:00] €12.4 billion. And so, you know, again, just to put that into perspective, that's about $13 or so billion. Uh, $13.8 billion. That's less than two thirds of NASA's one year budget in which kind of puts things into perspective. So this is over three years, right?
However, the difference being that is guaranteed three year budget for ESA to work with. So the planning that they can do with that is much more advanced than where NASA is right now, which is we don't know what our budget's gonna be next month, much less three years from now.
Mat Kaplan: And they're not building an SOS. They're not building ... well, they are building a piece of Orion. Those are big money sinks that they don't have, which hopefully, will make that 12 point whatever stretch a little further.
Casey Dreier: The biggest thing they don't do is maintain a huge human space flight program. That's roughly half of NASA's budget. Um, they also, you know, aeronautics is not as included in that in the same way as well. They build the area on mission, you know, the rockets as they have their own programs, but the ... everything is much more targeted and specific, and they tend to be much more robotically focused and you can get more bang for your buck [00:11:00] generally out of that if you're not spending a ton of money. But this also into another perspective, this, this €12.45 billion that they got for the next three years, that's a functional equivalent to roughly a 10% increase for ESA. So this is a very good budget for ESA. They basically got everything they've proposed from their member States. That's, uh, improvement from two years ago when the last ministerial happened.
And there's two particular missions in this budget that I wanted to highlight that are very relevant to Planetary Society members and things that the Planetary Society supports. The first one is, is really kind of a cool mission. It's a relatively small mission in a relatively being €400-ish or something like million Euro-
Mat Kaplan: Well, yeah. Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: ... for, for space as relatively modest.
Mat Kaplan: Pocket change.
Casey Dreier: Pocket change. Yeah. Uh, it's called Hara. And Hara is going to be a partner mission with the upcoming, uh, double asteroid redirection test mission dart that is making, that's gonna slam into a small asteroidal moon called Diddy moon. Well, colloquially called Diddy moon [00:12:00] around the [inaudible 00:12:00].
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: Um, NASA is launching its mission, I think in 21, it's gonna slam into the astroid in 22. This mission that ESA is going to do is kind of a replacement. They originally proposed to have a mission there to watch this impact. Uh, that didn't get funded two years ago in their last ministerial, it's called ADA, I believe. So instead they pre- they retooled this thing. It's called Hara now. It's going to arrive a few years later in 2026, but it's going to be able to come in and finally characterize this asteroid, uh, system [inaudible 00:12:31] moon. And to precisely understand an image the creator left by dark, it's going to be able to precisely understand how much energy was directly imparted into [inaudible 00:12:39] moon, really measure and get down and refine the change in orbit of the moon around the asteroid itself.
And what this is really going to do ultimately, is to help us understand how effective an impact it would be to altering the orbit of an asteroid, which we will be considered pretty important should one [00:13:00] be heading on a collision course to earth. We don't want that first test to happen in that situation, right?
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: We wanna kind of know, we wanna validate this beforehand. And so now what we're seeing, we're seeing an international collaboration coming in the 2020s to test in a real world scenario, the alteration of an orbit of another asteroid. And in characterizing that, um, exact transfer of energy and how it changes it so that we can predict and better understand how we can use that to defend the earth in the future in planetary defense activities. That's a very important mission. The Planetary Society came out very strongly to support this mission. We encouraged our members in the European Union and Canada who I learned, I almost wanted to have, uh, Kate Howells jump in for this because our Canadian, uh, colleague and, and staff here at the society reminded me that Canada is actually a part of the European space agency as a partner. Not ... it's slightly different formal commitment, but they, they commit funding to the European Space Agency.
So our European [00:14:00] and Canadian members signed this open letter to support this Hara mission. And lo and behold, European Space Agency member States supported their [inaudible 00:14:08]. Very exciting.
Mat Kaplan: And I imagine that NASA, particularly the Planetary Defense office at NASA, they must be thrilled or at least very relieved because you can learn so much from studying impacts as we have learned from impacts on Mars, on the moon and elsewhere around the solar system. The return of data, uh, well, first from the impact, but then from this Hara mission is going to be tremendously useful.
Casey Dreier: Absolutely. And, and you know, they can get some of this data. They can, they'll just observe it with ground-based earth telescopes. That's why the NASA component could still move forward. But this is going to refine the measurements by a factor of 10 at least, and give you a bunch of additional measurements in, in addition to that. Um, it's a really nice mission, it's super affordable. It's, it's a no brainer mission, but that doesn't mean it's gonna happen. [laughs].
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: That's not how politics works.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Casey Dreier: Um, but so very [00:15:00] happy to see that move forward. The other major aspect I want to talk about the ESA budget here, was the commitment for ESA's partnership in Mars sample return. Now-
Mat Kaplan: Very exciting.
Casey Dreier: This is huge, honestly huge. I mean, it's a huge commitment. This is a over a billion Euro commitment they're gonna make to Mars sample return. ESA is now committing financially to building the earth return vehicle in addition to a fetch Rover on the surface of Mars. So this is a massive contribution, really meeting NASA about half, you know, 50/50 or so in this or maybe a third of this, a huge program that's gonna be-
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, 'cause the 2020 Rover is still pretty pricey.
Casey Dreier: [laughs]. Yeah. Well-
Mat Kaplan: But still, this is a huge ... I mean, the first thing I thought of when I saw the approval of this was, for years we've been hearing people say, "Oh great, the 2020 Rover is gonna go around, find these samples and bottle them and then what?"
Casey Dreier: Yeah, exactly. Right? And so now we have a what? Well, we still, [laughs], because we don't have a 2020 NASA [00:16:00] budget, we still don't have an official start of NASA's contribution, which is the actual, the ascent vehicle off of the surface of Mars. And, you know, they're able to do some work on this because they're partially funded for studies, design studies in previous years.
Uh, NASA now is the one kind of hold out to formalize this project, which is NASA needs to come in and commit to building the launch vehicle off the surface of Mars and a variety of other kinds of components. The, the collaboration between NASA and ESA [inaudible 00:16:28] return is going to be very tightly integrated. It still may change. This is still in a study phase, but generally what we know, and we have a nice article from Justin coward who, uh, uh, posted a guest blog on planetary.org that I'll link to off the show notes here. And he outlines these plans, but basically Europe is going to provide the, the return vehicle. So it's an orbiting spacecraft that's gonna go to Mars, wait for the samples to launch into sp- into orbit, collect those samples and then come back to earth. Uh, and, and then land in the desert. ESA is also gonna [00:17:00] provide the small Rover that'll pick up these little, uh, dropping samples. [laughs].
Mat Kaplan: That's the, the fetch Rover. [crosstalk 00:17:06]. I love that, that name you used for it. Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: Exactly. And, and so, I mean this is a major contribution for ESA and really exciting to see this.
Mat Kaplan: From a real world.
Casey Dreier: Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: And it's Mars, come on.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. [inaudible 00:17:18] small bodies communities. I'll say, it's just safe for Mars to say this.
Mat Kaplan: This, this is the Holy grail.
Casey Dreier: This is the big thing we've been working for. For decades the community's been working for this. And it has always alluded the space community because of its complexity, because of its cost, we, you know, and it's still not a guarantee. We, we look back 10 years ago, a few years ago, we remembered that NASA pulled away from a joint mission with ESA back in 2012, the XO Mars Rover. And so what you're seeing with this tight integration and also this big financial commitment from ESA, you're adding a significant international political stability to the NASA contribution of this program. So if NASA wants to cancel Mars sample return, they're gonna have to create an international [00:18:00] problem for the state department and other aspects, you know, it's going to make it, it's, it's a very smart move politically.
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: And this is how you approach big projects, right? This is how it works in space. This is why missions can survive. So a good way to compare this is from history. Back in the early 1990s NASA was working on two large missions. What would become Cassini and Kraft. The comment rendezvous, asteroid fly by mission. And they both would use a similar kind of spacecraft. Bus- budget cuts were happening, of course. And so NASA ultimately had to choose functionally one of those. And Cassini was the mission that went forward in a large part because it had a significant contribution from the European space agency on Cassini, right? With the Hogan space.
Mat Kaplan: Sure. Yeah.
Casey Dreier: And, and Kraft didn't have that. And so these types of building these international partnerships or international space station is kind of the ultimate example of this. You ... it really helps with this ongoing political stability. It makes it much harder to cancel domestically because you have these other commitments [00:19:00] beyond it. So this is again smart move by NASA, very great of ESA to step up and commit at a, at a high level for this mission. This is an inexpensive mission for ESA to pursue. Very excited to see this.
Mat Kaplan: And another proof I suppose of the value of this kind of international collaboration is when it doesn't work out. Because I remember when in the United States had a bigger role in the XO Mars project for ESA-
Casey Dreier: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Mat Kaplan: ... and then pulled out and it caused, uh, some bad blood that lasted a while.
Casey Dreier: It did. And also a good lesson, it was in a sense easy for NASA to pull out of XO Mars because it wasn't tightly integrated as a program. NASA was providing a launch vehicle and then a, and a kind of a co-manifested Rover to go along with the XO Mars Rover. And so NASA could just easily like lop out their contribution and ultimately ESA was able to find a new partner with the, with the Russian Space Agency to be able to provide launches and move forward with that. But you're right, it did cause a lot of bad blood for [00:20:00] years. And there's still some, I mean, obviously they're willing to take that risk again moving forward with NASA, but you will notice and how they are proposing to move forward with Mars sample return. The spacecraft themselves are tightly integrated.
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: The sample return vehicle or the, uh, the earth return vehicle, the idea is that even though ESA is gonna build the primary spacecraft itself, NASA is gonna be contributing the sample, uh, collection device that's gonna grab the sample, right? So they're within the spacecraft itself, significant multi-nation, um, contributions that are required for mission success.
Mat Kaplan: Speaking of tightly integrated, it looks like thanks to ESA and this new budget, we may be a step or two steps closer to a lunar gateway.
Casey Dreier: Not just gateway, but the Orion spacecraft itself and how it flies into space. So there's money, there's I think around €300 million to start building habitats for the lunar gateway for later in the 2020, so beyond this kind of current idea of a, of a small meager gateway just to enable lunar surface [00:21:00] access that, that NASA's kind of rushing through right now for the 2024 deadline. But for the later 2020 ESA is putting in money to start building in, you know, ISS like habitats.
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: Additionally, there are funded themselves to contribute the service modules to the Orion spacecraft. So again, this very tight integration. NASA didn't have any money to build a service module for Orion for the all of this decade. And so they were able to leverage the European Space Agencies has a certain amount of financial requirement to contribute to the International Space Station, as part of the the large space station agreement. NASA said, "Hey, you can give us that contribution through the space station, but you can give it to us as a service module for Orion and we'll call it even on the space station."
Mat Kaplan: Interesting. Yeah.
Casey Dreier: And that will continue. So actually the, the money for their space station operations is going to be going towards service module construction for the next however many Orion's that [00:22:00] NASA is gonna need in that period. And NASA will continue to call it even on the space station and it's separate from the gateway stuff. It's totally wonky. [laughs].
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, it really is. I mean, completely separate. They don't overlap.
Casey Dreier: No.
Mat Kaplan: Those projects. And the first of those service modules, I think it has been made to the Orion capsule, right? It's in Florida.
Casey Dreier: It's a, it's a, I think it's-
Mat Kaplan: Are they doing tests?
Casey Dreier: They're doing testing. I think it's in Plum Brook Station as we're talking now.
Mat Kaplan: Okay.
Casey Dreier: I forget which one is where, but yeah, they're coming together. The first launch, ideally hopefully happening the end of next year, early 21 when you have everything you asked for, which is basically what the budget was granted, you know, we can talk about all the good news and pretty much everything was supported in that request. That particularly to the Planetary Society is invested in.
Mat Kaplan: Well, it's nice to finish the year with all of this good news coming from Europe. Uh, and we certainly have a lot to look forward to here as well. 2020 is going to be a very busy year, especially for Mars.
Casey Dreier: Oh, absolutely. All the 2020s is gonna be a pretty wild decade. We're looking here at the end of this decade that we're in [00:23:00] about to enter the 2020s. My big takeaway for what's going to happen looking forward as opposed to backwards, is that NASA has an, and a lot of space agencies, they've signed up for a lot of things for this next decade. We've, we've committed ton of commitments and now we have to deliver on them. That depends on the budgets being there. That depends on the technology, uh, working as intended, right? All of the development now has to happen. We've been in a nice build in the last couple of years of budgets going up. The economy has been good the last few years. Everything's been easy to commit to. This is why I start to get nervous about the next decade, [laughs]-
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: ... is that if there's a disruption to that, there may have to be some hard choices, but, you know, that's the inner pessimist in me, right? For now, if I want to be present in the moment-
Mat Kaplan: Maybe the inner realist, uh, after all times have been good for longer than ever before at this business up turn.
Casey Dreier: Right.
Mat Kaplan: So, you know, recessions happen.
Casey Dreier: Right. This is where, this is where I go back, it's like I'm supposed to live in the moment. I'm supposed to be happy presently, right? So I [00:24:00] will be happy that we have this good budget and these good commitments right now, but space policy in my, my inner analyst and my inner [laughs] advocate is not meant to be in the moment. Meant to worry about the future, and we're setting up strong but we have to continue it. And that's gonna be the big challenge of the 2020s.
Mat Kaplan: And I'm sure that you and the Planetary Society will be working to make sure that, that, uh, we get the decade ahead, that uh, we think we deserve, that all of us deserve.
Casey Dreier: And you know, the way to make that happen?
Mat Kaplan: [laughs]. No, tell me.
Casey Dreier: Is to be a member of the Planetary Society. That, that, that independent voice of a reason and support. So I do wanna ask Mat, 'cause again, this is the last month, here of the decade. How was this decade for you? Where did you begin?
Mat Kaplan: It was a great decade.
Casey Dreier: Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: Well, when I started this decade I was already doing Planetary Radio. That was a good start. But I was also still working for a local California university and having a nice time there but inching my way closer to going full time here at the Planetary Society. I had already [00:25:00] been at the Planetary Society for about 10 years at that point, working part time. Certainly excited about all the stuff that was underway. Spirit and opportunity were already on Mars. Cassini had begun its great journey of exploration. It's Saturn, you know, turned out it wasn't a bad decade, at least off earth. I know in your discussion of the previous 10 years with Marcia, it's you go a little deeper into what made that happen and what didn't happen.
Casey Dreier: That's absolutely true. Th- there was kind of a interesting churn this last decade from a policy perspective. Marcia, will talk about that. But we, we kind of began the decade with a constellation program to the moon and we're ending this decade with human space flight-
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: ... direction to the moon. Uh, so it kind of, we just ended up back in the same place and I guess maybe we know it now for the first time.
Mat Kaplan: And that is a point of frustration to Marcia.
Casey Dreier: [laughs].
Mat Kaplan: I won't give it away, but there are some very funny comments, particularly the [00:26:00] close of this interview that we're about to listen to. Uh, because she does kind of fear that everything old is new again.
Casey Dreier: There's some good grizzled space policy perspective in this, which anyone in space policy gains pretty quick. Um, but again, it's fascinating to think back. The space age is not that old. We look back this last decade, there's been six of those total of the space age roughly. We can draw some extrapolations, but there's still not that much data to take things as, you know, inevitabilities, yeah. And so there's a lot of new stuff coming in obviously in terms of commercial aspects of space flight, public private partnerships, maybe, you know, providing a new path forward. But again, we're still new at this as a species. This is still, we haven't even done this for a hundred years yet and we're quite far from that, you know.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Casey Dreier: And, and so the, you know, we can look back and say, you know, every decade is gonna tell us something. And I think, uh, this was an interesting decade. You know, for me personally, when I [00:27:00] began this decade, I was not working at the planetary, I wasn't even doing space stuff yet. I was in my previous career and I've had a decade of, of diving into space policy at a level I never thought I'd have the opportunity to do so. Uh, so I, I personally, I've had a wonderful decade and I end it now, uh, talking and being able to do this show with you and to work at the Planetary Society and to interact with all of our members. It's been an incredibly rewarding aspect personally.
And also just to share this excitement of where we're going with people. The 2020s, even though it can be rough, I think it, we have, if things work out, it's gonna be an extraordinary decade.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Casey Dreier: Like it could be the most exciting decade in space in 50 years.
Mat Kaplan: Wow. Okay. Well, let's look back instead of forward at the previous 10 years. It's this great conversation that you just had a couple of days ago with Marcia Smith, and we'll do that and then, uh, come back and, uh, close this, uh, [00:28:00] edition out.
Casey Dreier: Marcia, thank you so much for being back with us on the Space Policy Edition.
Marcia Smith: Thanks so much for inviting me.
Casey Dreier: So we're talking about the past decade here in Space Policy and I asked you to come up with a few of your, I guess all of these are gonna be somewhat subjective, but your subjective opinions about what were some of the most important space policy moments in the last 10 years. And I came up with a few of my own as well. And so we'll just kind of go back and forth and discuss them and talk about the longterm consequences and why we each think these are really important pieces in space policy history for this last 10 years. And we're just gonna start chronologically. In no particular order here.
You brought up a really important aspect of this and you actually kind of tied it into a way that book ended it nicely. Do you wanna start with this Obama's announcement that there was, uh, the end of the constellation program basically that NASA was no longer going to send humans to the moon. Let's remind our audience how that happened and then how that relates to where we are now with vice president Pence, surprising [00:29:00] everybody by announcing we're going to the moon really fast.
Marcia Smith: Yes, and perhaps that's a way to characterize the decade at least for human space flight, which is, it's been a decade of surprises in the beginning and in 2019 towards the end. On February 1st, 2010 president Obama announced that he was canceling the constellation program, and there was a huge fear in Congress from Republicans and Democrats. It was not a partisan issue. It wasn't Democrats versus Republicans. It was the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue disagreeing strongly with each other. On April 15th those few weeks later, president Obama went down to Kennedy Space Center and gave a speech and said, we're not going back to the moon, been there done that, and instead we're gonna go to Mars. Mars is our goal and we need a stepping stone and that stepping stone is gonna be an asteroid.
The asteroid mission never really won a lot of support any- anywhere. There, there are a few people that supported it of course, but not enough to make a difference. And so a lot of the early part of the [00:30:00] decade in terms of human space flight programs was lost because of this whole battle between Congress and the White House over the future of the human space flight program. And it was all at this time of tremendous churn when the space shuttle program was being terminated. And that was a George W. Bush decision, but Obama could have turned it around and he chose not to. So you had the space shuttle ending. The future of human space flight was very unclear, and this sort of characterize the early tumbled of the first part of the decade.
Casey Dreier: I think that's a really important moment to dwell on. This decade opened up with quite a significant set of changes that happened very quickly. And also of course in the context of the greatest recession that this country had seen in, in almost a century. The end of the constellation program I think can't be separated. The reaction in a sense, can't be separated from the fact that the shuttle was ending. So you had these huge amounts of layoffs and [00:31:00] an ending of, of basically these institutionalized jobs through all these congressional districts in Florida, Texas, Alabama, and California that have been stable for literally 30 years. If these had been separated in some way, like if the shuttle had continued for another five years, that the end of the constellation program would have been less of a kind of a reactive force behind it.
Marcia Smith: Well, I do think that a president standing up and saying, we're not going back to the moon because we've already been there would have been quite a shock to the system no matter what. I have always been people who thought we didn't need to go back to the moon. And that apparently includes the two living Apollo 11 astronauts. But there are others like Bob Zuber and who've been saying for decades really that you don't need to go back to the moon. But I think that most people thought that that would be the natural progression back to the moon and then onto Mars. So I think having a president make that kind of a statement was really gonna be shock, even if you didn't have these other factors. But you brought up, I think, you know, one of the huge [00:32:00] events that played into all that has happened in the past decade, and that was the tremendous economic downturn in 2008 that president Obama inherited when he walked into the oval office.
And so he was actually pretty much enthusiastic about space exploration. He's the only presidential candidate I have known in my lifetime who actually used the space program as part of his campaign ads. He had one there with the Apollo 11 spacecraft landing in the ocean and talking about, he was a kid when it happened and all that. But, you know, then he walks into his office on January 20th and he has this huge recession and I think that had to change some of his plans. And it is true that the constellation was costing a lot more than had been advertised. So when he had this expert commission brought together under [inaudible 00:32:45] Augustine and they said, basically you need $3 billion a year more if you're gonna do this. That was also a shock to the system. So it was, it was not a good situation no matter what was going on to be happening at the time of this great economic [00:33:00] recession.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. And, and again, I wanna dwell on the, the way that you characterize this, which I think is really insightful, this, uh, the surprise policy by surprise. You know, you mentioned that Obama went down to Florida. He gave this speech where he said, been there, done that. I think literally that was a quote from it, but also that we would go to an asteroid. I've talked to people who said that the call to send humans to an asteroid that was decided on the flight going down to that speech. So it wasn't some aspect of preexisting policy. There wasn't a huge push for it internally or externally from NASA. It seemed to be plucked out of nowhere from ever on from that point under Obama, that goal to send humans to an asteroid really kind of thrashed around, wasn't able to get anywhere because of that. Was that, uh, maybe a foundational error on the president's part or the White House's part at that point in terms of how to try to move the space program away from what they [00:34:00] considered a failing program into something new?
Marcia Smith: Well, and you have to remember they had that other really odd announcement at that speech, which is we were not gonna do constellation so we were not gonna do Orion. And then suddenly a day before an Orion mockup showed up in the big building down at Kennedy Space Center where he was gonna talk and it was there on display. He was standing in front of it and giving the speech and they were gonna turn Orion into some kind of a crew return vehicle from space station, which made absolutely no sense. You did get the sense that this had not been well thought out. Obama knew he had to come up and say something because there was so much [inaudible 00:34:38] in Congress that the shuttle was ending and he was ending constellation and he did not have any ideas for where the Human Space Flight was gonna, program was gonna be going, right at the time when as you said, they're gonna be all these layoffs. So he had to come up with something and this is what he came up with.
Casey Dreier: This aspect of the kind of the beginning of the decade has [00:35:00] really the consequences from this first year of 2010 basically, we're living in that consequence still and will likely for the next at least 10 years given what came out of it, which was one of my items that I raised as one of the most consequential space policy, uh, actions of the decade was the subsequent NASA authorization from 2010. So this was the congressionally mandated, uh, programs came out of this where the space launch system rocket, the Orion crew capsule was maintained from the constellation program. And in the deal of that was the official kind of enshrinement of using commercial providers for cargo and then kind of step wise commercial providers for sending crew back into to lowers orbit to replace the space shuttle. Do you agree with that? Where do you think the 2010 NASA authorization fits into this spectrum of space policy development in the 2010s?
Marcia Smith: Well, I think from a civics lesson [00:36:00] standpoint, it demonstrates that Congress does have a very strong role to play in these kinds of decisions. And a White House, whatever White House it is, cannot make a unilateral decision. So I think that through the NASA Authorization Act, they Democrats and Republicans working together in Congress showed that they have the final say on this because they're the ones who have the money. You can look at the constellation program and say that Obama canceled it, but if you look at the work that was going on at NASA, it really never was canceled. The destination temporarily changed. Instead of it being, you know, back to the moon and onto Mars, it was to an asteroid and onto Mars. But, uh, NASA was still gonna be building a big new rocket. They were going to build a "multipurpose crew vehicle" but that turned out to be Orion.
So those fundamental elements that you needed for a bold human space flight program were being built all throughout the Obama administration because Congress forced them to do it through [00:37:00] that NASA Authorization Act. So it was a very interesting civics lesson that, you know, Congress has the purse strings and a very interesting aspect of the future of the human space flight program. 'Cause we would not be where we are today. You know, and some people argue that we're in a strange place today as well, but we would not be here at all if it were not for the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that led to SLS and Orion.
Casey Dreier: I'd like to dwell on this just a bit because it's, it's an extraordinary piece of legislation to read just in terms of the minute amounts of detail that is specified within the legislation. They're specifying the minimum metric tonnage to LEO capability of this heavy lift rocket that it has to be able to be upgraded to 130 metric tons, that it has to use the same workforces from the space shuttle and constellation programs, right? These are all mandated in placed into or placed into law by Congress, and I should emphasize here, we should emphasize that this is a Congress of [00:38:00] president Obama's same party back in 2010. This is a democratic, huge majority in the Senate and in the house, and it was a significant, even though, you know, they had a lot of Republicans supporting this as significant in a sense, reprimand of the administration policy by his own party.
Marcia Smith: Right. As I said, it was bi-partisan. It was not a partisan issue at all. At that point it was Congress versus the administration. And Congress wanted to move forward with a human space flight program. They made clear also in that law that they wanted a balanced NASA program. They didn't want money being siphoned off from a science and, and other areas, technology development, other areas in order to fund it. They wanted a balanced program throughout NASA of science and human exploration. So there was a lot in that law. It was a very important law.
Casey Dreier: And I think also just a notable aspect of it. It was a three-year authorization for NASA, for these programs. We've had, I think one or two authorization laws passed since that were just one-year [00:39:00] authorizations that did very little to change anything. Even the, the duration of that authorization itself I think is remarkable in the context of that decade considering how little legislation has been passed through those authorizing committees ever since.
Marcia Smith: Well, of course the language and the authorization builds remains in place until it's changed by a future law.
Casey Dreier: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Marcia Smith: So the duration of these bills, whether it's one year, two year, three years, or five years or however many years, really relates to just how many years of funding are in there.
Casey Dreier: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Marcia Smith: And as we all know, the funding levels and an authorization bill are really not all that relevant because it's the appropriations committees that give them money. So the, the policy aspects of the bill continuing no matter what the expiration date is, of the law.
Casey Dreier: Another, I think maybe final capstone of this first tumultuous couple of years of the decade and space policy. And this is something that you highlighted that was the final [00:40:00] shuttle flight, STS-135, and the subsequent reliance of NASA on the Russians to launch people into space. Would you like to expand upon that one?
Marcia Smith: Well, and of course, if you look at the decade that we're just finishing up, the change in the geopolitical relationship between the United States and Russia has changed dramatically after Russia took over Crimea in 2014. So in 2011 when the shuttle was ending and we were gonna become reliant on Russia to get crews back and forth, I think people were not as worried about it. It was only supposed to be a four-year gap. Four-year gap is pretty long time, but it was gonna be a four-year gap and we were friendly with the Russians. As the years went by and now it's already an eight-year gap. We're hoping it's not gonna be a nine-year gap, but it's eight already, and of course our relationship with Russia has changed dramatically. So I think that the termination of the space shuttle without anything to replace it was a questionable policy choice and you can [00:41:00] look back on it and, you know, hindsight is 2020 and say it didn't look so bad in 2011, but I think in hindsight it was really not a good choice.
Casey Dreier: You read both of the authorization bill going to the 2010 authorization saying that both the SLS and Orion or the multi-purpose crew vehicle should be ready by the end of 2016.
Marcia Smith: Right.
Casey Dreier: Um, [laughs], so five years after that. And then of course you had the original proposal for commercial crews, you said, uh, I think it was, yeah, flying in 2015, it's fascinating to look back at the relative optimism of both of those considering that we still seem to be years away from certainly SLS, but commercial crew seems to be always kind of slipping six months to a year into the future now. And do you see any reflection of that by folks on the Hill? I mean the other interesting thing here is that people who wrote this legislation and, you know, creating these programs, a lot of them are no longer serve in Congress.
Marcia Smith: Right.
Casey Dreier: And so there's no ... [00:42:00] is there an opportunity I should say, for reflection? Do you see people looking back on these and saying this was unrealistic to begin with?
Marcia Smith: No, I don't. I don't know if you do. But [laughs].
Casey Dreier: [laughs].
Marcia Smith: So some of the staff are still there. And even the staff has changed a lot on Capitol Hill these days. But there are some of the staff still there, but a lot of the members have gone, some are still there, you know, Eddie Bernice Johnson who chairs the house science committee was there at the time. But I think these members they're, they're not really reflecting on the past as much as they are looking at not even the future but looking at today and what can we get past today? They're working on the fiscal 2020 appropriations right now. So I think that they don't really have an opportunity to sit back and reflect the way we policy people do. But this decade to me, 'cause I've been doing this for a long time, even though there's been a lot of tumbled, it's not all that different from the past decades.
And so here we are in 2019 still debating moon or Mars. We [00:43:00] know the longterm goal is Mars, but how do you get there? What are the steps? How are we gonna do it? The new thing this decade and just the last couple of years really is the emergence of public private partnerships as the procurement method of choice for NASA. It's a little bit surprising to me how quickly they have put their eggs in that, because we still don't have evidence that these are gonna work from a business perspective. We have one example commercial cargo that is working from a technical perspective, but NASA is still the only customer and the whole point of these things is that NASA is gonna be one of many customers.
So we have not seen commercial cargo make that leap out of the government funded mechanism, but already we're into commercial crew. We have not seen that work technically, but presumably you give them enough time, enough money, they'll get it to work technically. But again, is it gonna be a good business case? And ... but we're all, without knowing that we're already going forward to, you know, Commercial LEO and commercial human landing systems and [00:44:00] all of these other commercial aspects of human space flight. We're out really having the evidence that these are gonna be successful rather than just more and more government money being poured into them.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. And I absolutely wanna dive into that more. Let's just put a pin in that for, for now, 'cause I still want to wrap up a few items with the, the Russia dependence that I think is worth exploring. So you brought up again this, this transformation of the U.S. his relationship to Russia and over this course of this decade, do you think that that tight interrelationship and, uh, requirement of sending humans into space through Russia, did that change or modify or alter the overall statecraft that the U.S. had, uh, on the global stage with Russia because of this dependence? Was Russia able to leverage that into their own advantage, particularly around Crimea and other issues that got them in trouble in the world stage?
Marcia Smith: I almost see it as space having been [00:45:00] isolated into its own little pocket. Both sides are protecting it because it's important to them for different reasons. I think, you know, both countries want the national prestige of operating this international space station, but Russia also gets a lot of money from it and they need money for their space program. The United States is willing to pay that money because it has no choice, although it's working on these alternatives, the commercial crew program, so I almost see it as being isolated from the rest of the geopolitical landscape.
Casey Dreier: Going forward here as we, you know, this, this longterm reliance on Russia. I look at this just, it's interesting to me because again, it was originally pitched as a, as a brief four-year window, which is relatively brief I suppose, but this longterm, it's been almost a decade now and probably will be a decade and will continue going forward throughout the beginning of the commercial crew program. Assuming everything goes to plan on that. Do you think that has transformed in any way how NASA sees itself with international partners being in this critical pathway to being able to [00:46:00] access space, and is there a longterm consequence from then or Russia having grown too dependent on NASA money to fund aspects of its space program as a consequence of this?
Marcia Smith: Well, that's gonna be a very interesting question, 'cause obviously their space program has been struggling because they don't have a lot of money going into it. So as we transition from NASA paying Russia for seats to get back and forth, once commercial crew is operational, NASA and Russia both said that they're gonna be flying their astronauts and cosmonauts on each other's vehicles because you want to be sure there's always at least one American, one Russian up there, but it'll be an arrow where the money is not coming from NASA to pay for those seats. At least that's what NASA's expecting.
So is Russia gonna be able to maintain the production levels of the Soyuz and everything and the rockets without that money coming in from NASA? I think that's a very good question and I don't know the answer to it. But I think that [00:47:00] overall, not just NASA, but I think all the space station partners feel that the space station is the prime example of international cooperation and getting through this very difficult marriage with people changing their minds, especially the United States over the course of this program ever since the 1980s on again off again adding Russia in the 1990s all of that.
It's really been a Herculean task to keep the partnership together and I think that people see this as an occurring sign that as you move further out into the solar system that we'll also be able to get these partnerships and NASA wants to add commercial partnerships and be able to keep them together no matter what happens.
Casey Dreier: You identified this idea that perhaps NASA ended the shuttle too soon. I wonder now in some ways that having this dependence on Russia, it's actually kind of how the system was designed in the sense that it is forcing people [00:48:00] to work together because of the shared goals are so strong, that you can't just pull away and, and get angry about something you actually can't separate, right? I almost wonder if that's ultimately a benefit in terms of policies. So maybe be one of a long lasting consequences will be, hey, different nations can work together in a very tightly integrated way that advances both of their interests in a peaceful manner.
Marcia Smith: Well, I look at it somewhat differently, which is from an operational standpoint, Russia has been a single point failure for all these years. And as we saw with the [inaudible 00:48:35] MS10, they can have failures too. So I think it's always best to have at least two ways to get up anywhere in space at the space station or to the moon or wherever it is to have a backup capability. We relied on Russia after the Columbia disaster because we had no choice. And then we ended up choosing to end the shuttle and be reliant on them for whatever period of time after that. We thought it was gonna be four years. Now it's been eight. [00:49:00] But I think that it does add another complexity to your operations if you are the only way to get up and back. And I think it's always better to have a second method.
Casey Dreier: Do you think that having the Russians as an option allowed, in a sense, the commercial crew and even something like SLS to be stretched out longer than they would have been otherwise? Would there have been a lot more pressure if it had been, again, I guess the comparison would be maybe back to the late '70s under shuttle, where you had a roughly five-year break between human spaceflight launches that in the United States there was no other option to send humans into space. So do you think by having this option the pressure wasn't on properly to push those other new programs forward?
Marcia Smith: I don't know, because there's always the safety angle and you don't wanna put schedule pressure on people. And they were, they're fighting against that right now because everybody wants to have these commercial crew systems ready. But everybody's saying safety first. So I'm not [00:50:00] sure that putting pressure on the commercial crew program would've been a good thing to do anyway.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, particularly for the first time through it. So we've, we've kind of gone through this first couple of years of that I think are all again very tightly interrelated. The end of constellation, the new human space flight policy, end of the shuttle and then the 2010 NASA Authorization Bill that we're still living in that, that world.
So I'd like to move forward to something that I raised as a significant policy issue. This, it wasn't directly space policy, but it had real space policy consequences. And that to me was the rise of the tea party backlash to the early years of the Obama presidency. In 2011 they lost the, the house of representatives, the Democrats did and replaced by a very budget cutting focused Republican party that implemented the law that we know as sea quest ration a few years later. Um, that limited or idea was supposed to limit overall [00:51:00] government spending and have these basic cuts to government programs if no spending cuts were agreed by Congress.
And you can see during this period of the Obama presidency compared to other presidents in history that NASA takes a significant dip in terms of its real spending. If you adjust for inflation, it's, it's lost a significant amount of purchasing power during the Obama presidency compared in that, which is unusual compared to most presidents. They, they tend to just at least follow inflation with a few exceptions. You also had just overall because of that limited funding and these new programs such as the SLS coming up along that you were really squeezed on various aspects of NASA's portfolio.
So one of the reasons we had the, uh, our mission, the asteroid redirect mission, was because NASA had no money to send, to create a human qualified Lander or spacecraft beyond what they were already designing for Orion. You saw significant cuts to planetary science of course at the Planetary [00:52:00] Society focused on for years, and there just wasn't much to go around. You saw basically the delay cancellation of major programs at NASA that were still rebuilding back from, and if you actually look at an inflation adjusted numbers for NASA's primary budget, you can see that it never has actually recovered from where it started the year at.
Marcia Smith: A lot was going on obviously during [crosstalk 00:52:23] those-
Casey Dreier: To say the least.
Marcia Smith: ... those years. And, and sequence duration was a Damoclean sword hanging over all the agencies until quite recently actually. And so they actually implemented secret striation in fiscal 2013 and you can see the big dip in NASA funding and occurred for just about every other agency as well. Uh, when those across the board cuts went into effect, because deficit reduction was the Clarion call of the Republican party during that era. And so they kept ... and they want to do keep defense spending, not just level but increase it. So they wanted all the cuts to come out of the [00:53:00] non-defense programs like NASA. So you had this constant tug of war throughout all those years. It's only finally come to a close now with the budget deal that they just got this year 'cause this is sort of the last straw for the 2011 Budget Control Act.
So after 2013 when they saw what dire impact it had on all these agencies, including NASA, they sort of said to themselves, we'll never again, but they didn't want to just vacate the 2011 Budget Act. So they did it in two-year chunks. Every two years they would pass another waiver to the Budget Control Act. But then you'd have the Damoclean sword hanging over you for the next two years. And so it was just long drawn out process where you never knew from year to year whether or not agencies were gonna be hit with secret saturation or not. So it's been a very challenging time for agencies. And even though we seem to have finally gotten past that you still have all the continuing resolutions and everything else that makes it so difficult for R&D agencies like NASA to plan their futures. That's not [00:54:00] over. I mean, we're still gonna have that.
Casey Dreier: What was again, fascinating to me was that as you point out, like the moment secret saturation or the year after secret saturation was implemented, they kind of lost the taste for it. It was never easy. It became easier again due to the political dynamics once president Trump came into power. But you can see the slow, gradual increase of NASA's budget after 2013. But even before secret saturation, and maybe you remember off the top of your head, was at fiscal year 2011 that had a full year continuing resolution or was it fiscal year 12 like?
Marcia Smith: I don't remember. It was one of those.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, they're basically, they're, they're ... no resolution was found in a sense. They limited to a huge extent the amount of money or, you know, kind of influenced some new budgeting that came in through both Congress and the White House. And again, I, I think you see these longterm consequences to NASA in particular in its science programs that canceled the XO Mar's contribution that would have gone with the European mission. Even though we're seeing a lot of that [00:55:00] starting to come back now. A lot of missions under development for reason I'll bring up here in a second, we're still, I'd say there's still like a five to seven year gap, particularly in planetary, but also I would say, in, in astrophysics due to overruns and James Webb that you're gonna see it, you know, manifest itself in the next few years because of these budgeting decisions made seven years ago.
Marcia Smith: Yes. And I think the future of the Robotic Mars Program, even though everyone's talking now about Mars sample return, I'd still consider that to be somewhat up in the air.
Casey Dreier: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Marcia Smith: And, uh, and you would know better than me, but I thought the planetary science community was really fighting for a communications infrastructure around Mars. And you don't hear so much talk about that anymore to make certain that these aging assets get replaced so that you can talk with all the rowers that are down on the surface. So I, I think that you're right that the, there are these long term consequences of what was happening during this past decade and I'm not sure that the path forward is all that [00:56:00] clear. Right now, Congress has been very generous with NASA. They're giving it a lot more money than is being requested. I don't know how long that's going gonna last.
Casey Dreier: [laughs].
Marcia Smith: It's the good times.
Casey Dreier: Yeah.
Marcia Smith: And sooner or later there's gonna be a reckoning and someone's gonna be interested in deficit control again. And I, and I think that NASA needs to be aware of that. NASA and all agencies need to be aware of that. This, uh, continuing plus up that they've had the last few years because they have appropriators who are very interested in what they're doing. Uh, Senator Shelby, certainly in the Senate and for until recently, uh, Congressman Culbertson, but, uh, Congressman Serrano who is currently chairing the subcommittee also seems to be a space enthusiast. But you have to be careful in your planning because so much of this becomes personality dependent. You do get changeovers in Congress and some people lose elections and some people retire, so you really never can rest on your laurels.
Casey Dreier: I think that's actually, uh, maybe jumping ahead a second, but just in this context, I think there's [00:57:00] actually maybe defines this decade in some sense of a lot of promises are being made and they won't really manifest themselves until the 2020s. Also, most of the costs won't manifest themselves until the 2020s. And so you see things like beginning Artemis program or the SLS production, these longterm contracts for Orion crew modules, Mars sample return, WFIRST, all of these other missions that are just getting started in phases A and B, the, you know, the early studying formulation phase, the new surveillance mission, the new, uh, mission to search for new earth objects.
All of those are gonna be paid for in the next five to 10 years. But to your exact point, they're depending on a budget that has been growing and been generously funded, I think NASA has grown at an average of 4% per year for the last five years, basically ever since 2013. And so, that's, uh, to me the most [00:58:00] unsettling aspect of this decade is that NASA has been told to do a lot of things, but the primary funding is to be, [laughs], to be determined by a different Congress, with different politicians under different administrations.
Marcia Smith: And that's not new. I mean, thinking about this decade versus previous decades, it seems forever since we've heard, uh, the old motto about how NASA needs to put 10 pounds of potatoes into a five pound bag. And even, and even though people say at year after year after year, it doesn't change. They still expect NASA to do all this stuff and the money's not there for it. And then, you know, NASA for its part does not seem to be able to manage some of these big programs very well. And so you get these constant overruns on the James Webb, which makes people very skiddish about WFIRST. And, uh, we love Mars curiosity, but that was a big overrun, you know, back at the beginning of the decade and it was two years late. And so people worry about these things because they don't see, uh, that on the big [00:59:00] programs that they're being executed, the way that they're being sold.
And so they eat up all the seed corn for the new programs that are coming along. And then suddenly out of the blue on March 26, vice president Pence says, we're going to get people back on the moon in five years. And they don't even know the budget for it. You know, Jim Bryden Stein keeps telling Congress, we don't know how much it's gonna cost, and yet they've announced the school. So that's a whole nother layer of huge expenditures in the near term on top of all the things that you just listed that NASA already had on, on the books. So it's very hard to see how that case closes.
Casey Dreier: And that was an example you also gave her the policy by surprise, the vice president Pence's announcement for 2024. Wrapping that up, why do you think that keeps happening? Is it just a seductive thing to be able to announce and get good headlines? I mean, not that the Obama administration was looking for great headlines by canceling constellation, but where do you see that common thread? [01:00:00] What unites those two different types of politicians to get in that same effective pursuit of policy?
Marcia Smith: I wish I knew. I wish I knew. [laughs].
Casey Dreier: [laughs].
Marcia Smith: It's, it's a great book that you can write Casey.
Casey Dreier: All right.
Marcia Smith: Comparing 2010 to 2019 and why presidents or in this case, I would say, a vice president made these sudden surprise decisions changing the direction of the human space flight program and, and did not seem to have very well thought through and, and just did it by surprise. It obviously did not work to Obama's advantage in 2010 'cause he just had everybody mad at him. With vice president Pence making his announcement, I think everybody's just still scratching their heads, because they wonder, you know, where did this come from? Putting it at 2024 which is a political deadline 'cause it's tied to, you know, the Trump presidency and if he gets reelected, which has a whole nother layer of political complexity to something that is ordinarily a nonpartisan issue. I don't know what the reasoning was there and, and hopefully Scott Pace will tell us the whole [01:01:00] story someday.
Casey Dreier: [laughs]. Yes. That'll be something to look forward to. Also, I guess for Pence, waiting until the Democrats had back the house of representatives before announcing that new mandate wasn't the best timing, I would argue either.
Marcia Smith: Well, it, it almost looks like something that's designed to fail, something that's gonna be so much extra money in such a short period of time tied to a political deadline, and telling NASA, we know NASA, if you're not up to with the NASA, is gonna have to change, not the goal, you know. And telling contractors, if not naming them, you know, "Well, if you can't do it, then I'll find somebody who can." I mean, it's interesting rhetoric. It's pretty hard to actually get an executable program out of that.
Casey Dreier: As we're finding out, and that'll be, that'll be, maybe we'll be talking about this in 10 years [inaudible 01:01:45].
Marcia Smith: Oh, I hope not. [laughs].
Casey Dreier: [laughs].
Marcia Smith: We've been talking about it for a few decades already.
Casey Dreier: [laughs]. That's true. Why change? Okay. Another item that I raised as, as one of the more important, and this I think is maybe more [01:02:00] of a insider aspect of this, but important aspect in terms of success of implementation of space policy related to both of these topics we're just talking about here is the ascension, I believe, of John Culberson to the chairmanship of the commerce justice and science committee, subcommittee of appropriations in the house of representatives. John Culberson, for everyone who may not remember he, I would say, is an honest to God space fan. For anyone who's met him, he just personally exudes a passion for space at a level that I don't even see in most, you know, people who work in the space business. He would sit and read scientific papers. And his passion was Europa, finding life on Europa, the moon of Jupiter with a big amount of liquid water.
A huge aspect of the fact that we have a mission right now, Europa Clipper that's a flagship class mission, a $3 billion mission. That mission exists because John Culberson was able to appropriate [01:03:00] hundreds of millions of dollars specifically to that mission. And, and I would say effectively forced NASA to, to take on that mission to Europa. And he funded it through his force of his own will in that very powerful position as chair of that committee that funds NASA. So how do you see the role of Culberson overall with, not just with Europa, but with NASA and, and it's, and it's growing budget that has enabled it to take on a lot of new projects?
Marcia Smith: Well, Mr. Culberson clearly is a space cadet. I don't think there's any question about that. And I agree with you that, uh, Europa would not be happening if it were not for his personal enthusiasm for it. I kind of liken it to a KLA Hutchinson and Bill Nelson in the Senate, who through the force of their wills got the space launch system and Orion. They got them back again, I don't know quite how to characterize that. That's the less was a replacement for Aries, but Orion is still Orion. In any case, they use their force of the positions they held because Hutchison was both on [01:04:00] authorizations and appropriations and Bill Nelson was revered in the Senate because of his knowledge of space. And so they got SLS and Orion, sort of the human space like part of it and Culberson by the force of his will got the planetary, robotic planetary side of it going. It's a similar situation and I certainly think that the planetary science community owes a lot to Mr. Culbesson.
Casey Dreier: How much do you think in the history of, at least in your personal experience or opinion on this, how much of these developments like this are, are tuned to just stand at the fortune of one or two people being in these politically powerful positions that enable these great things to happen? I feel like we've seen, you know, there's a handful of examples I could think of, of these people being just at the right place at the right time who get the bug, who are excited about it, that basically work goes beyond just the parochial political interest into something greater. Do you think that's a critical aspect to success in space policy over the, over the years?
Marcia Smith: [01:05:00] Well, I think that there have been individuals who have tried very hard to affect space policy and some of us succeed and some have not. After all Senator Proxmire was chair of the Senate appropriations NASA subcommittee back in the day and he tried to stop the shuttle and he did not succeed by the force of his will. But I do think that you can look at some of these programs and see that they had strong backing in Congress. Some of it is because of personal passion like with Mr. Culberson, and I think other is because of a parochial politics.
Casey Dreier: Culberson is again, an interesting consequence. He assumed the chair and I think the GOP has something like a six-year term limit on chairs.
Marcia Smith: Yes. Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: And he ended up serving four years because he, he lost an election in what was previously seen as a pretty safe Republican district outside of Dallas, um, or Houston, I should say president Trump has been very pro space in his administration we just talked about. It's been very open and committed to space, particularly human space flight and [01:06:00] on defense side of space. And you see all these unpredictable consequences where it's very likely had, uh, Hillary Clinton won probably in 2016 that you would not have seen such a strong democratic resurgence in the House of Representatives in 2018 that ended up losing Culberson his seat in the house of representatives and his chairmanship of the CJS committee.
As you were pointing out, so much is unpredictable if you depend on one person to carry you through these really difficult situations, particularly in terms of budget. That it's, it's not a great long term recipe for success. Though, in this case, the project of Europa Clipper had gotten far enough along that even absent Culberson, we're still seeing some pretty healthy funding for Europa and planetary science. Though with the big, I'd say difference being there's no longer money going towards a Lander, and perhaps if Culberson had stayed another few years, we would have actually seen a Lander mission [01:07:00] move into implementation or maybe formulation and ultimately implementation, kind of skipping ahead of the entire decatal process. So that's a good what if I suppose of history.
Marcia Smith: Well, Mr. Colberson's loss is sort of interesting from a space perspective. The politics of Texas are changing. It was pretty well known that the demographics of his district were changing and there was frustration on the part of some of the national Republican leaders that he wasn't paying more attention to his reelection race. And so there was a lot of speculation that he was gonna lose pretty early on because he just wasn't paying attention to it. Part of that was just the changing politics of Texas. But his opponent reportedly got a big boost when she said that, uh, Culberson was more interested in the water on Europa than he was in the water in Houston.
Casey Dreier: Yup.
Marcia Smith: He might've been losing focus on home state issues, which is of course what gets people reelected.
Casey Dreier: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Marcia Smith: So, but your overall point that is you can become too reliant on a single member of Congress and [01:08:00] members of the house. You're only there for two years for sure. And members of the Senate are there for six for sure. And then they have to get reelected. So that's again, why you can't rest on your laurels because you've got something through, you need to be certain that you have strong support for these programs elsewhere for whoever is gonna still be in Congress. And I think Europa is one of those examples where clearly Mr. Serrano is a very supportive of Europa, and I think in their report they said they didn't put money in for the Lander because there was enough leftover from 2019. I don't know if that's accurate or not, but it wasn't as though they were saying we shouldn't do the Lander.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, they just weren't throwing money at it the same way that, uh, Culberson was-
Marcia Smith: Right.
Casey Dreier: ... in a sense that, 'cause I think if I remember off the top of my head with, with Clipper before Clipper was actually requested by NASA and formalized by NASA, he had directed some, almost a quarter of $1 billion to that mission over the course of three or four years-
Marcia Smith: Right.
Casey Dreier: ... just for pre studies. And so alm- I mean, NASA would almost be insane to not take that at that [01:09:00] point because so much had been directed to it. And I think that was probably the same strategy with Lander that was disrupted, um, when he lost his seat. And that actually had a blog post about that, that very ad that you referenced kind of making fun of him for his big thing on space, which is a good, I guess. Yeah, as he said, the general politicking [laughs] lesson just to be aware of how to get re- always make sure you stay in touch with your home constituents.
Marcia Smith: Right. And I just to put another perspective forward, I think that there are people who think that Europa is not the place to go. They think Enceladus is a better chance. And so when you get a prominent member of Congress, a powerful member of Congress, so focused on one moon, in this case Europa, there may be some opportunity costs because there are other places where you might also search for life in oceans under IC cross. That if you just look at it from a scientific standpoint would be a better choice. So there are a lot of factors at play here and [01:10:00] sometimes maybe it's better to have the scientific community making these decisions rather than politicians. Just to offer that. [laughs].
Casey Dreier: Yeah. [laughs]. Uh, we can have a whole dive inside of this, but just in the, in the interest of moving this forward into-
Marcia Smith: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: ... the last couple of items, uh, here that I do wanna reference, um, we each have one more. And the first one I wanna bring up was mine. And I honestly, I, I'll freely admit I went back and forth on whether to include this because we just don't know yet, but I think enough has happened that it's, it's consequential. So I, I listed space policy directive number one, the first space policy directive of the Trump administration signed in December, I'll guess about two years ago now, in December of 2017 all it really did was change a line of text in the existing national space policy and official document from the Obama era to say that the United States will lead the return of humans to the moon for longterm exploration utilization is effectively what it [01:11:00] said.
That was the official policy directive that this is before Artemis. This was before the 2024 deadline. This was policy, basically this, the official policy to, to undo what Obama had announced in, uh, Florida back in 2010 of going to an asteroid. Unlike the asteroid initiative, you actually saw a significant movement towards this goal in a way that we just never saw under the previous administration. I think helped by additional funding, helped by the fact that they were able to repurpose the deep space gateway into the gateway lunar orbiter, but basically, orienting human space flight back to the moon, right where we started at the beginning of the decade with constellation. So Marcia, what do you consider the meaning, do you agree with me that this is an important policy development of this decade? Because again, I really did kind of go back and forth on this.
Marcia Smith: It's hard to say at this point. So, uh, yeah, [01:12:00] he did get us back on the moon path, which was where I think a lot of people thought we should have been anyway, but you still have these very prominent voices like Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin saying, no, skip the moon. Go right to Mars. So we're right back into this decades old argument of moon versus Mars. Is it a significant space policy development? Sure, because it puts us on another path towards the future. But as you said, we don't know how it's gonna turn out and if it had just been that, and I give a lot of credit to [inaudible 01:12:32] because he'd been through so many, you know, changes in direction over his career at NASA that he came up with this flexible thing where you could take something called the deep space gateway and that's suddenly, oh, well, it's a linear gateway.
So he did build a lot of flexibility in knowing that the winds were probably gonna change as the years went by. So I think that he did a good job at that and after Trump put the moon back in the plan, NASA came up with a plan to implement that saying we're going [01:13:00] to get back in the moon by 2028. I thought it was not a bad plan. I thought it was reasonable, achievable. Congress came up with a reasonable amount of money, but then suddenly you have this pivot back on March 26 when suddenly, oh no, we have to get there in five years, which just seems a, a, a bridge too far in terms of the amount of money it's gonna take.
Even if you do this with public private partnerships. Because as we can see with commercial crew that's taking a lot longer than anybody had imagined. And people went on Congress, because they didn't give it all the money it needed in those first couple of years, but they were giving it all the money it needed by 2014 or 2015, you know, and yet here we are in 2019 and they're still applying. So there's no guarantee that bringing in the companies through public private partnerships is gonna accelerate this to that degree. So yes, space policy directive one in terms of human space flight was an important policy decision, but I think it is overshadowed by the March [01:14:00] 26th decision by vice president Pence.
Casey Dreier: I was trying to think about this in terms of what did it actually change? Did it change ... Did money start to flow? Did programs themselves change around it? And I think the overall point that we've been mentioning, I think that we'll hit on towards the end here is that not programmatically by having a flexible path or having these, uh, destination agnostic programs, they're designed to not change, right? So the money didn't necessarily flow any different to SLS or Orion because the moon, there was a moon directive now, right? Those kind of continued on the way that they had been under Obama.
And even though gateway had been started, I guess we did see significant upticks, though relatively speaking, couple of hundred million start to go towards gateway. Right now I think we're seeing with Artemis, yeah. Maybe that concentration of that change. We're seeing, I think at least how NASA talks about its human spaceflight mission changing in a way and, and more rapidly than we saw [01:15:00] under the, uh, you know, compared to either asteroids or even, you know, we started to see this towards the end of the Obama era, the, uh, pathways to Mars.
But the, the rapidity of it seems, at least in their marketing is notable to me. I, I haven't seen NASA pivot that quickly, which may not mean that much, [laughs], in the long run, but, you know, maybe it does say something about the, it's tapping into something internally. It's allowing them to focus more.
Marcia Smith: Well, I see the huge change being after March 26 the gateway was gonna be international and that was a big feature of it and sustainable exploration. And suddenly it was, no, we have to be there by 2024. So first we're gonna do fast and then we're gonna do sustainable.
Casey Dreier: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Marcia Smith: And as part of the fast. Then they had to start pouring money into these public private partnerships that they hope they're gonna have for the Lander is trying to get a Lander in five years it's gonna be really challenging, you know? And they changed how they were going to do gateway through public private partnerships and all that. So I see the big change, you know, [01:16:00] just in these last few months, how many months has it been? Eight months, eight, nine months. At the same time, you had NASA getting frustrated with SLS and deciding to put the exploration upper stage to the side because they wanted Boeing to focus just on the SLS itself.
And now you're getting pushback from the Senate saying, "No, no, you have to do EUS." And you get prominent people like Doug Cooke and Tom Stafford saying, 'No, no, no, forget about doing Artimus with all these commercial rockets, sending a little things up to the gateway and selling on there. Let's stick with SLS, and EUS and do it with just two launches." So it's throwing the whole idea of returning to the moon back into this chaotic soup o- of competing interests. You know, NASA has what it wants to do and, you know, NASA is trying to fuck with the White House wants to do and Congress has its own idea. So I feel like we're right back to where we were aiming. Not exactly right back, but similar to the situation where we were with, uh, after Obama [01:17:00] canceled constellation or you know, Congress has its ideas on what should be done. Some of them simply don't know what to do. But, but, uh, you do have this pushback from Congress on some of these things that NASA and the White House are pushing from Republicans from their own party.
Casey Dreier: Let's talk about public private partnerships now too, which I think was a, just such a critical development at least as a concept throughout this decade. And you've, you've touched on this a couple times, but maybe just big picture of how we define those and then maybe also to acknowledge how a lot of people may think about those that may differ from the formal kind of way that we define a public private partnership.
Marcia Smith: Well, I think the way NASA is defining public private partnership, which is that the government and the private sector put money into the development of something and NASA is gonna buy services from them instead of owning the hardware. Now, with commercial crew, Bill and Meyer came the closest if ever saying what the percentage split was between the government [01:18:00] money and the private sector money. And this was years ago when he said that NASA was paying 80% to 90% of it. So it's still a largely, government money going into these programs and it's the government buying the services. They still haven't gotten to the point where NASA is one of many customers, which is NASA's overall goal for these things. But I do think that's the concept behind it, which is both parties put money into it and the companies make money off of selling services to the government and other customers.
Casey Dreier: Going back to 2010, you know, again, reading the authorization bill, which has so much skepticism included in that bill about the whether commercial providers were reliable or, or capable, and it was a good reminder that, in that bill was written or passed a couple months before the first dragon cargo capsule got into space even. We've seen this incredible growth of capability and also public private partnerships, I would argue basically driven by one company, which is SpaceX in the last decade here. And [01:19:00] I think when people look at SpaceX, and you may have had very similar conversations before too, which is, "Oh, is NASA going to be put out of business by SpaceX?"
Which demonstrates to me that most people do not understand that commercial cargo and SpaceX's largest contracts are from the government and it would be the other way around without NASA. With commercial crew now still being delayed and kind of unproven in terms of what is commercial about it, beyond the kind of fundamental IP property, who owns the intellectual property and who is buying what from whom? The idea being that there's not this big new market opening up, I think is really still unproven. Can you speculate why do you think that public private partnerships as a concept have grown so popular despite seeing I'd say mixed outcomes in the last 10 years?
Marcia Smith: Well, I think that NASA is hoping it's a way of offloading some of the upfront costs and getting things done more quickly. I think that's their goal in using these. [01:20:00] And again, we haven't seen it all play out yet. The only success so far is commercial cargo and, and I give credit to both SpaceX and to orbital sciences, which eventually, you know, is merged and become Northrop Grumman. But I think no, both of those companies demonstrated that you could technically build the vehicles, the rockets and the spacecraft to accomplish this task for a government customer. And they probably did it less expensively than if NASA had used the traditional cost plus contracts.
Casey Dreier: Right.
Marcia Smith: That they were using for SLS and the like. So I think that they have demonstrated that, as I said for what they haven't demonstrated is that there are other customers so that from a business standpoint they can make a go of it. Even if NASA stops paying for those services for whatever reason, that's the key for these other things that NASA wants to use them for. Like Commercial LEO, having commercial space stations where NASA is only one customer. And I just don't know how you get there. There's a whole [01:21:00] chicken and egg thing going on there and, and I don't know, after all these decades of which we've had space stations, the first space station went up in 1971 it was a Russian space station. [inaudible 01:21:11].
So we've had space stations galore and we're still looking for that killer app that's gonna demonstrate that there's something profitable that you can do in space that makes you more money than if you do it on the ground. And we're still not there yet. And people are still talking about things like now it's XE bland I think. And then you hear other people saying, well, that's not really gonna work out either. It's the fact that they're using this model that's unproven, not just for today, but they're building it into their future plans without any evidence that it's gonna work out.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. I almost see it as it's popular because it hasn't failed yet in a sense, or it hasn't been a proven fail. It, it allows the kind of preexisting romantic ideals of [01:22:00] lots of people in space doing all sorts of things that are independent from the either depressing or frustrating machinations of government and allows you to transfer those into this other domain that hasn't disappointed you yet. You can say, "Oh, we'll have a private space station and we'll have lots of people go up there and they'll do it." And there's almost like this kind of base level assertion that because government's are doing it, it'll be faster and cheaper. It's taken as this predicate, like an axiomatic truth.
Marcia Smith: Exactly.
Casey Dreier: And we have yet to see that proven out. And I think an interesting counter example to this is that we saw with the, uh, recent NASA IG report about Boeing, that they claimed threatened to pull out of the program, the commercial crew program, unless NASA incentivize them more beyond their fixed price contract to stay in. It always just reminds me, it's like, when the government is depending on these companies to provide a required service, just like where require Russia to launch humans into space, it's [01:23:00] never really a fixed price contract, right? It's never really a partnership because the government is, needs that capability and that gives a lot of leverage to the companies providing it. And the same will be true for at the moon and Commercial LEO.
Marcia Smith: And we saw that of course, decades ago with the ELV program evolve expendable launch vehicles, where once again in the '90s, it looked like there was gonna be a lot of launch business. And so Boeing invested a lot of money in upgrading its rockets, Lockheed Martin, spent a lot of money upgrading its rockets at their own expense in addition to some government money. That was some of the early, earlier public private partnerships. And then the market collapsed. And so the government had to have the launches and the company said, pay us more, otherwise we can't build these rockets anymore. Out of all that came the United Launch Alliance, where the government basically told the two companies they were gonna have to form a joint venture to provide these things and do all these other sorts of things, you know, combining production plants on this stuff. So [01:24:00] we do have that example of where a public private partnership did not work out.
Uh, the, uh, X33 program in the 1990s did not work out. So we have tried these things before and they did not work out. So now we have one example, commercial cargo where it has worked out from a technical standpoint and that's all we have for data points and yet all the eggs are going into these public private partnership baskets. Maybe it'll work out. I, you know, I don't have any special knowledge to say that they're not gonna work out. I just know it as from a policy perspective, it's an additional risk.
Casey Dreier: You were there through the, through the '80s and that first burst of commercial space, right?
Marcia Smith: Right.
Casey Dreier: That you had the Commercial Space Act of '84. There was the proposed commercial space station that, I forget the name of it right now off the top of my head, that was supposed to be-
Marcia Smith: The Industrial Space Facility.
Casey Dreier: Yes. Those all founded for the same reasons. And then of course challenger changed a lot of the expectations about the role of, of [01:25:00] shuttle.
Marcia Smith: You just reminded me of another one. So Lansette, commercialization of Lansette in the 1980s.
Casey Dreier: Right.
Marcia Smith: That was gonna be a public private partnership in that field.
Casey Dreier: Right. And again, I think 'cause the key thing is the private partnership comes from the idea that a company and its investors are willing to pay money now with the idea that they will have a bigger return in the future, right? That there's a bigger market that they're gaining, gaining access to. I remember talking to a NASA person in, in the COTS office, the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services office about this a few years ago, and they were saying, yeah, the idea of going into low earth orbit that was, you know, "that was a known problem," right? That you can fit ... generally it's solved problem. You can, you can figure out how to do this. And then once you can do that, you can be like SpaceX and compete for, there's a whole private satellite communications marketing for those launches, right? A lot of people wanna send things into low earth orbit and are willing to pay for it.
No one beyond governments right now are willing to pay the amount of money required to send things to the moon, [01:26:00] to do signs at the moon, to send humans into space even. And so I think that's what we're kind of hitting here, that this next decade we're gonna be kind of this unavoidable testing of this hypothesis. And again, this is kind of what I was talking earlier about that we've made a lot of promises in terms of policy in this last decade, in the 2010s, that are going to be coming into the fore next decade. We're gonna have to live with those consequences and we will really see how well this private partners, public private partnership model is going to work when the harsh realities, I'd say, of the physical harsh realities of maintaining human life and space really are put to the test.
Marcia Smith: Right. I agree.
Casey Dreier: Any last thoughts about this decade that we've just been through in terms of policy? You've been doing this since 19, I think I was double-checking 75, is when you started working at the commercial research service or sorry, Congressional Research Service. My apologies.
Marcia Smith: I actually worked at [inaudible 01:27:00][01:27:00] before that, so I've actually been doing space policy since 1972. Can you believe it? [laughs].
Casey Dreier: Okay. Oh, so the start of the shuttle, [laughs], start of the shuttle program.
Marcia Smith: As Apollo, as Apollo was ending and shuttle is starting. So I, you know, I've seen an awful lot. The end of 2019, the end of this decade feels very familiar to the end of other decades. There's always room for hope. Uh, but, uh, hope is really not the best way to set your policy. I understand all the reasons that, uh, NASA struggles with this and the White House struggles with it and Congress struggles with it. There are no crisp, clear answers. We can just say, "Oh, we'll just do it this way and it'll work." You know, they've been trying different things over the decades and some of them work and some of them don't. And we're just gonna have to see what plays out in the 2020s. Uh, there's a lot of debate about moon and Mars. People are still saying, do we need to go back to the moon and then onto Mars or can go straight to Mars?
The, [01:28:00] the one thing that's new right now are these public private partnerships that NASA is relying on, even though there's scanned evidence that these work just, there haven't been all that many of them. So it's not that they may not work, but there's reason for skepticism as to whether or not they're gonna work or not. So it's the end of this decade has pretty much the same feel as the end of other decades and I can appreciate why NASA does what it does and why the White House does what it does and like Congress does what it does. But there are all these different ways to try and solve that issue for human space flight. Is know where, where are we going and how are we gonna do it and how much money we're gonna spend. A lot of them had tried in the past and so far they have not worked out since the Apollo program and we're just gonna have to see how it works out this time.
Casey Dreier: Maybe we can even move away from the analytical aspect. How do you feel about this last decade? I mean, you've had, you've gone through these decades in the past, do you learn a certain amount of like sanguine [01:29:00] ability to just accept the system for what it is or was it a frustrating or exciting decade for you? What ... did you have any kind of different emotional color to this last 10 years that were unique?
Marcia Smith: I hate to use negative terminology 'cause I don't really feel negative about the space program overall. But I think it was a surprise when Obama decided out of the blue to cancel constellation without working that through some of the political system in advance. And I think that's a lot of what undid it. I think that if he had a great new idea of how to do this and he could have worked it out, you know, with some of the key members of Congress in advance, so it didn't just fall in their laps, that maybe something better could have come out of that. And so when we had it again this spring with vice president Pence, again, coming seemingly out of the blue with this idea to do something which seems absolutely impossible, which is to get people back on the moon in five years, it had that same feel to it and it's a [01:30:00] frustration.
It is that we can't just seem to agree on the path forward and execute the plan. There have to be these pivots here and pivots there that mean that we never get anywhere. So I can't say that I feel more frustrated in 2019 than I did in previous decades 'cause I've been feeling pretty frustrated for quite a long time. [laughs]. And you get to the point where, you know, I don't care where we go, just go somewhere. Just agree on it. Stop the fighting. You need to get people on the same page. And we had this little sweet spot at the end of the last decade after the 2005 and 2008 NASA Authorization Act, where Congress first Republican and Democratic congresses and the White House, were all on the same page. It was like, "Wow, what a relief." Well, we know what we're doing. We're going back to the moon and onto Mars. And then it was all undone by Obama and then we had a decade of [01:31:00] chaos and now it's getting changed again by vice president Pence. And it just all seems as though we're just never gonna get there. So it's frustrating.
Casey Dreier: I hear you. So I guess, uh, I'll put in a request for December of 2029 and we will follow-
Marcia Smith: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: ... on this next decade.
Marcia Smith: I am not discussing moon versus Mars another day. [laughs].
Casey Dreier: [laughs].
Marcia Smith: I'm done. I'm done.
Casey Dreier: Okay.
Marcia Smith: Just get one, I don't care.
Casey Dreier: Marcia Smith, founder and editor of Space Policy Online. I really recommend you follow that site. It's a great resource for all of this space politics and policy analysis. Marcia, thank you so much again for joining us on the show. We will have you on before, a decade from now to talk about other topics in space policy.
Marcia Smith: Thanks so much for having me. It was great fun.
Mat Kaplan: That's Casey Dreier, the chief advocate for the Planetary Society. Talking to Marcia Smith. Not for the first time on this program, the Space Policy Edition of planetary Radio, uh, of Space Policy Online. She, she's just marvelous and I [01:32:00] love that ending. It just with, I was cracking up both times. I heard it both when you were talking to her live and when I worked on it and now yet again, it's, it's just I hope she's right? I hope we're not talking about moon versus Mars in 2029.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, it's [laughs] a perennial. We're wrapping up the show so I won't go into it.
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: But the, the fundamental problem is it's, and I've talked about this on the show before, it's, it's a problem and an opportunity, right? I guess if you wanna spin it in a more positive sense, is that for, for human space exploration, it's totally up to us what we do with that capability. There's no external force that drives consensus about what to do. Science is science, so you can get a bunch of scientists in a room, give them enough time. They'll come out with a list saying these are the most important questions in the field, because there's a boundary to knowledge of, of human knowledge, and you, you can generally define where that boundary is and say, this is where we push to advance our knowledge of the cosmos.
Human space flight, because of its complexity, because of [01:33:00] the inherent limitations of technology that we have now, we're kind of limited to just a couple of places. The moon, an asteroid floating around in space or Mars. There's no external force that drives that consensus right now in the past that external force has been national security and political, geopolitical situations. But absent that, we don't have an easy way to all agree at the same time.
And that has manifested itself over the decades without a clear single purpose. So at this point we have this choice we can make, we can continue and just choose one thing and just do it, or we can continue the endless circular debate, um, that Marcia was talking about. And I'm not just a space advocate. I'm a space fan, right? And I would love to see, and this is where the Planetary Society, our first principle for human space flight, let's just get out into deep space.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, family please.
Casey Dreier: I'll take anything.
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: At this point, just [01:34:00] get me beyond low earth orbit. Get me out in there. 'Cause that, that's the fundamental first. I mean, that's the, you can go a lot of places, you know, the moon orbit, the moon, whatever, float around and play peanuckle, you know, it's just like whatever you want to do. As long as we're further out, that's the enabling technology that we need to then decide where to go beyond it.
But I will be happy to see humans on the moon, around the moon, and I'll be happy to stick with this plan because we should just choose something and do it. And because of the inherent complexities that just makes sense to focus on that. So this is where we look forward to this next decade. I've been telling people this for a while and I'll make this maybe closing pitch. We have set up a lot of opportunity for the next decade. And it's our job as space advocates, as space fans, as space supporters, and ideally as members of the Planetary Society, it's our job to make sure this all happens now. It's our job to make sure that we stay invested, that we stay committed, that we keep the pressure on people [01:35:00] who make policy and legislators to keep prioritizing these efforts to deliver on the promises we've just made because of this incredible opportunity that we have. And because this could be the most exciting decade in space in 50 years. This is the gift we're going to give to generations beyond us.
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: So the decisions we make in the next few years, I firmly believe will be echoing down for decades after this. And so we better make some damn good decisions, and this is how we end. And if you don't get involved in this, and then you look back in a few years and go, "Man, that was a stupid, why did we do this?" If you didn't do anything, I don't have that much sympathy for you in a way, right? So this is why we stay involved in this and why we're gonna try to make sure we, we, we start this next decade strong and we finish it in an even stronger position.
Mat Kaplan: So join us in helping to create this legacy, this, this band of brothers and sisters [01:36:00] under, uh, in part the able leadership of Casey Dreier, the chief advocate for the Planetary Society. Thank you, Casey. You have a great holiday and a great new decade.
Casey Dreier: Thanks Mat. We'll talk again in 2029. [laughs].
Mat Kaplan: You bet. Looking forward to it. [laughs]. And also January of 2020.
Casey Dreier: Maybe a few times before then.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, I think so. All right. That's it. The Space Policy Edition of Planetary Radio. You can find other great resources at planetary.org/radio, including some of the ones that Casey and I, and Casey and Marcia have been talking about, including Marcia Smith's website. I hope you will check us out there and that you will listen to the weekly edition of Planetary Radio, and join us planetary.org/membership. Take care and happy new year. [01:37:00]