Planetary Radio Host and Producer, The Planetary Society
A new bill from the House of Representatives threatens to upend NASA's Artemis program and refocus the space agency on sending humans to Mars by 2033. Space policy expert Laura Seward Forczyk joins the show to share her critiques of this proposed legislation and what it would mean for NASA's human spaceflight program.
Artist’s concept of a moon landing as part of NASA's Project Artemis
Mat Kaplan: [00:00:00] Welcome to the February 2020 Space Policy Edition of Planetary Radio. We are so glad to have you with us. We being, well, me, Mat Kaplan, the host of Planetary Radio, and the Chief Advocate of The Planetary Society, Casey Dreier, who is with us for this monthly deep dive into the, uh, policy decisions and- and background that, uh, drive everything else that we talk about on Planetary Radio and everything we care about at The Planetary Society. Welcome, Casey.
Casey Dreier: Hey, Mat. Always happy to be here.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Happy to have you, and looking forward to, uh, not just my conversation with you, but to listening to the conversation that you've, uh, you're going to have with your special guest this week. Actually, it's already in the [00:01:00] can. You wanna tease that a little bit before we, um, talk a little bit about, uh, between you and me about other stuff that's going on?
Casey Dreier: Yeah. Today, we have Laura Seward Forczyk who's a space policy specialist and expert who runs her own consultant company, Astralytical. She's the author of a new book called the Rise of the Space Age Millennials, and she has a background in planetary science. So quite a bit of useful overlap for us. She's gonna help us breakdown a brand new bill that came out from the House of Representatives that asserts kind of a very strong control over the future of NASA's human spaceflight direction, away from the current administration plan of Artemis, and to more of a quick touch and go to the moon and a real focus onto Mars.
So quite a bit going on since our last show. And she's gonna help us breakdown her thoughts on that bill and we kinda bounce off each other with that. So it's a very interesting discussion, so stick around.
Mat Kaplan: And so interesting that now, well, I guess the battle lines have been drawn because the President of the United States, Donald J. [00:02:00] Trump, a- as we speak, just last night in his State of the Union Address, uh, made a, uh, a fairly passionate, uh, statement in favor of his approach to getting back to the moon and elsewhere, called Artemis, uh, we're gonna get more into that in a moment.
But first, are you a member of The Planetary Society? You're listening to this show, and as we've pointed out in the past, if- if you listen to the Space Policy Edition and maybe also, to, uh, the Weekly Edition of Planetary Radio, you're probably a prime candidate for membership in The Planetary Society. So please, take a look at planetary.org/membership, look at all the benefits, not just, uh, for the society, but for you as a member if you decide to, uh, to join us, to, uh, join this happy f... band of warriors, uh, fighting for space exploration and space science.
Casey, as you pointed out before we started to record, we, uh, have a lot of [00:03:00] people who are already members of The Planetary Society, and there's a message for them too.
Casey Dreier: It's not just for me. Uh, uh, a member tweeted at me and- and said, "Hey, mention that you can upgrade your membership. If you are already a member, you can chip in a little more per month, you can go to that at planetary.org/membership." It's a good idea. It's a really nice way to help kick in and- and allow us to do what we do here at the society. And- and just to emphasize this, The Planetary Society is an independent organization. The opinions that we take, the efforts that we do for advocacy, the space policy analysis that we provide doesn't have to deal with large aerospace donors to the organization that drive our opinions. The only opinions that we have to consider are those from our members that enable us to be here.
And that's really the power of this organization, that's really the unique aspect of this organization, and that happens because people become members and- and donate to the organization. So it's- it's- it's a very unique setup that we have here [00:04:00] and it's... and a critical role that we play in Washington, D.C. and around the world is our independence. And that independence is enabled by individuals and people like you, to take a phrase from, say, public radio.
Mat Kaplan: I like to think of us as the consumer reports f... of space exploration. [laughs].
Casey Dreier: [laughs].
Mat Kaplan: Another organization that I'm very supportive of and- and a member of. Casey, as we speak, in fact, as people hear this, you may be winging your way to Washington, D.C., thanks to the support of Planetary Society members, the Day of Action is upon us.
Casey Dreier: It is. So if you're listening to this before the 10th of February 2020, you can actually still register online if you wanna participate remotely from your home, anywhere around the world, at planetary.org/dayofaction. The 10th of February is the day when Planetary Society members from 28 states around the United States are coming to Washington, D.C., and right now, we're [00:05:00] tracking about 175 meetings we'll be having with members of Congress and their offices to talk about space, to advocate for space, to prioritize things like space science and exploration, to get people in front of the people who make the decisions, who approve the budgets, who set the policies at NASA to say that this is an important investment by the nation.
So it's a, uh, obviously, a- a big deal for us. We have over 120 members coming, thousands of more people will participate around the world, from home, you can sign up online and pledge to take action. This type of activity where you get in front of members of Congress and their offices and you share your opinion with them as constituents and supporters of things like space science and exploration, that's a critical aspect of advocacy. If you're not part of that discussion with them, you functionally don't exist. You become irrelevant. The very people who make that effort to show up demonstrate their commitment merely by being there. It makes a huge impression on [00:06:00] members of Congress, and it really helps to back them up and email the same offices from home when they're out there on that day on February 10th.
So, like, so excited to see so many members of The Planetary Society coming and joining me in Washington, D.C. this year. We'll talk all about it on the next episode, but it's looking to be a really exciting, packed day of all of us advocating together for more space science and exploration at NASA and around the world.
Mat Kaplan: I know that you and others have basically been preparing for this Day of Action 2020 just about since the 2019 Day of Action, uh, with a lot of great stuff planned. I mean, uh, what's ahead for the people lucky enough who'll be joining you in Washington?
Casey Dreier: Part of the fun actually of the Day of Action is just hanging out with other members of The Planetary Society and getting people from around the country. We have people coming from Hawaii, from New York, from Washington state, from California, Maryland, Virginia, ton of states coming together, sharing this one [00:07:00] goal of space science and exploration. So it's always really fun to see everybody interact. I love meeting everybody personally and just seeing their excitement, it makes me excited and rejuvenates my focus working for you at the society. So we have dinners together, we have a training day together where we all practice our talking points in becoming really good space advocates, we're going to get special briefings from scientists who work on interstellar probe studies, missions, other planetary scientists, we're gonna go to NASA headquarters and hear briefings about planetary science from the people making it happen.
It's just a really fun-packed day. And then of course, you're just walking around the capital, wearing your finest suit or power suit or whatever you wanna wear.
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: And people listen to you on these issues. It's- it's actually really fun. And that's one of the things that we forget, it's not just a day of going around, trying to drag Congress to do something, it's a day where you feel really empowered being able to share your voice as a constituent and as a citizen of the United States, in this case, to [00:08:00] advance something that you really believe in. It's- it's a really fun experience honestly, and- and people tend to have a great time doing it.
Mat Kaplan: Well, have a great time, and, uh, even more, uh, I hope that it will be as effective as it has proven to be in the past and- and with the- the bigger c... biggest crowd ever, I- I suspect it will be. Uh, it is going to be an interesting time to be in D.C. As we speak, it is quite likely that, uh, President Trump is going to be acquitted of, uh, the charges of impeachment in, well, just hours. And it was only last night that he was in front of the assembled, uh, House of Representatives and Senate and actually, the whole Federal government, delivering the 2020 State of the Union Address.
Not too surprisingly, and as we've already mentioned, he, uh, worked a little bit of space in to there, uh, Casey, and- and you took some notes.
Casey Dreier: Uh, I might actually say it is a little surprising that he mentioned it. Space tends to be a questionable [00:09:00] addition to a lot of the State of the Union Addresses.
Mat Kaplan: Hmm.
Casey Dreier: People, in the last, uh, even Trump himself for the last few years has, uh, the first State of the Union didn't get any mention of space when people thought it would. So it's actually been building. This is the strongest statement that we've seen in the State of the Union about space probably since Ronald Reagan's 1984 State of the Union where he announced space station Freedom as a major administration initiative. And, well, we have a clip of... let me just play the little clip of the president talking about the Artemis program.
Donald Trump: I am asking Congress to fully fund the Artemis program to ensure that the next man and the first woman on the moon will be American astronauts using this as a launching pad to ensure that America is the first nation to plant its flag on Mars.
Mat Kaplan: So that was a little bit of Donald Trump's State of the Union Address. Casey, was it good or [00:10:00] bad news for space fans, uh, that it was included?
Casey Dreier: Well, [laughs], I'm a policy guy so I always find the bad news in anything.
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: Uh, there- there- there's potential problem, let's phrase it that way. It's important to keep in mind that this is not 1961, this isn't Kennedy addressing a joint session of Congress about sending people to the moon with Apollo in the midst of the Cold War. 1960s were a very low point of political polarization in American politics, and obviously, in 2020, we're in a point of very high polarization.
I actually wrote about this back in, uh, 2016, four years ago now, when Obama was being kind of pressed to say the same thing about Mars, where there's a risk, particularly during high profile events, like the State of the Union, that when you take an issue like NASA, nonpartisan issue that doesn't have a strong ideological basis to it, and you plop it in something like the State of the Union, it actually incentivizes the [00:11:00] opposition party to undermine and oppose that goal because it has just been stated as a major goal of this administration of that party, the president being functionally the head of his party in politics.
It's not necessarily that it will happen but it certainly doesn't help democratic support, in this case, for Artemis seeing it tied so closely to a very political speech given by, let's say, a very divisive president in our American political system right now. So there's a risk to that of NASA getting actually too much attention from the president and in citing that political opposition against it.
Mat Kaplan: Hmm. Hard to keep your head down, I suppose, when you're sending big rockets up, uh, up into space. Um...
Casey Dreier: That's true. [laughs]. It's not a subtle thing. And again, yeah, we'll post the- the link to my previous article on the show notes. This is not about Trump per se, this is about just the fundamental structure of American politics in a polarized political [00:12:00] system. So this would flip the same back when it was Obama when I first wrote it, it applies to Trump now. NASA, because it is non-ideological, it can take very easily, right. There's no strong democratic, in this case, ideological position to keep supporting NASA the way they have if it becomes more and more politically aligned with the president's party, the Republican part, in this case.
So it's- it's a risk, but it's also, we should just say, it's nice to see NASA getting the attention, right? That helps align obviously the president's party behind, uh, goals of human spaceflight and obviously, demonstrates that, that's an interest of the president himself, who ha... sets the agenda within his party at the moment. So, you know, it's- it's going to be a mixed bag, but let's not pretend we're talking Kennedy in 1961 here.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. And aren't we going to see possibly as soon as next week, in fact, right after the, uh, Day of Action, uh, the appearance, the proposed, uh, uh, administration budget for NASA for [00:13:00] not this year, but next year, 2021?
Casey Dreier: That's true. The rubber's really going to hit the road in terms of Artemis funding. Next year's budget, the '21 budget, which is going to be released, [laughs], actually on the Day of Action while we're running around Congress [laughs].
Mat Kaplan: Ah.
Casey Dreier: So, of course, one more thing on February 10th, we will see if the administration is truly serious about pursuing, uh, return to the lunar surface by 2024. And what I mean by truly serious is you will have to see a significant increase to that program's budget in this proposed document and it's, uh, not just for this... next year's budget, it creates a five-year of what's called run-out budget, which demonstrates ongoing political commitment to that effort. So basically, the full cost of Artemis, at some... to a first or second order degree, will have to be incorporated in this next budget proposal coming out from the administration on the 10th of February in order for us to take seriously the [00:14:00] effort by this administration to land on the moon.
We're getting, I'd say, rumors are- are positive, but again, rumors are rumors until we actually see the numbers. And so we're going to be looking very closely at that budget request coming down on the 10th and clearly, that'll be a topic of discussion, [laughs], I'd say, for us-
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: ... in the next episode in March.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Casey Dreier: So it's... there's a lot starting to happen here and of course, it's always fun to do the Day of Action and have the budget come out at the same time, but if- if you'll all forgive me if I'm not perfectly on top of all the news on the 10th-
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: ... that there's a few other things happening.
Mat Kaplan: All of this makes your conversation upcoming, uh, in moments, uh, this month, with, uh, Laura even more relevant because of course, uh, you talk about, well, uh, if not the House of Representatives, at least a committee of the House of Representatives, uh, own ideas, its response, in a sense, to, uh, the Artemis program that NASA is already pursuing as laid out by the administration. [00:15:00] Uh, you wanna say a little bit more about this as we, uh, head into that interview?
Casey Dreier: This is the science committee of the House of Representatives, and even more specifically, the space and aeronautics subcommittee. Their job, they're what's called an authorizing committee, and they write what's called the NASA authorization bill that ideally comes out every year, every couple of years, it's more sporadic than that ultimately when it comes into law. It fundamentally sets policy, it doesn't set funding, it- it can recommend funding, but it doesn't do that. That's appropriations that actually provides money to NASA. So this committee would write bills that sets NASA's policy, its goals, what it's going to do in order to serve the nation.
Now, these bills can have very big consequences and be very important, I'd say, probably the most important NASA authorization we've had in the last couple decades, was the one in 2010 that created the space launch system rocket program, maintained Orion, endorsed commercial crew. [00:16:00] It basically set the next couple of decades of human spaceflight project investment. This bill is kind of on par with that in terms of importance, should it pass as written, which, for reasons we'll talk about or probably won't, but there's a couple of key provisions that are worth just laying out before we go into our discussion with Laura.
Um, so this is coming from the democratic led House of Representatives. Notably, it had cosponsorship by the ranking members, the top Republicans on this committee, so it's a bipartisan bill. And functionally, what it would do is it would take NASA's efforts at the moon and- and- and very... pretty much restrict them to- to fall in to a very direct pathway to going to Mars.
So this bill would set NASA's human spaceflight on a much more of a moon to Mars direction. It would create a whole new directorate at NASA called the Moon to Mars directorate. It would direct NASA to begin formulation on a Mars transfer vehicle for sending humans to Mars with a goal of 2033 for [00:17:00] orbiting Mars. It pushes back the goal to land on the moon to 2028. It directs, probably in the most controversial aspects, it directs NASA to own any lunar lander that is developed to land, uh, astronauts on the surface, which is a clear contrast to what NASA's pursuing now, which is a public-private partnership, where the private company would actually own the hardware and provide a landing service to NASA, at least as conceived.
By doing that, it very much benefits large prime contractors, like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and a lot of people see their influence on designing this bill. And it undermines companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, which want to own the hardware that they developed so they can use it for other purposes.
So this basically puts NASA in a much more old school development approach for sending humans to the moon and Mars. It doesn't say anything about funding, it doesn't say anything about how they're going to build a broader consensus. And it's very different from the NASA authorization bill released by the Senate, which [00:18:00] generally accepts the current direction of its human spaceflight program.
Obviously, as you might expect, this has created quite a bit of consternation among people, particularly those who really want to see humans return to the moon. Again, it really limits their activity, so people are criticizing the bill for not creating a sustainable lunar presence. And, you know, you can see a bunch of my thoughts on this, I've posted this online, but the way that I phrased this was, this bill turns the moon away from a cornerstone in human spaceflight to a true stepping stone, or it's just used to demonstrate technologies directly needed for Mars.
Some of the other provisions are worth mentioning. It actually has some very good science provisions, it- it authorizes a variety of, particularly NASA's earth science missions that have been canceled repeatedly, or I should say, attempted to be canceled, it authorizes the WFIRST space telescope to follow up James Webb, and it also has some very good language supporting planetary defense efforts that we really like here at The Planetary Society, it has generally supportive language from [00:19:00] Mars Sample Return, but I'm... and The Planetary Society, I should say, are a little concerned that this language is- is very weak, it calls for a strategy and a study, but it doesn't authorize the program itself.
And we really need to get moving on Mars Sample Return to follow up on the work that Mars 2020 is going to be doing and get those samples back to earth as quickly as possible. So that's one of the things that we recommended. Planetary Society also recommended that we loosen these restrictions and allow NASA to pursue more commercial and public-private partnerships for returning humans to the lunar surface and really let NASA have that flexibility.
So, this bill, we'll talk about it and moved out of the subcommittee. There's gonna be a full committee, what's called markup, where they can amend the bill coming up the next few weeks. There's a long pathway ahead for this bill, so nothing is in it is likely to become law as it is, uh, they have to resolve their differences with the Senate and of course, be, uh, signed by the president. So, it's an interesting if nonetheless, if nothing else, what we can learn from this bill is that there's significant [00:20:00] disagreement about the pace and immediate focus for the human spaceflight program within Congress, not just within in between Democrats and Republicans, but within members of Congress themselves and the administration.
So that kind of uncertainty never helps for, uh, a fast-paced like something that Artemis has to happen, so we'll see if the Republican party really falls in line now that they've seen the president's announcement at the State of the Union to really begin supporting Artemis as proposed as opposed to what's in this bill.
Mat Kaplan: All right. That is a great, um, introduction to the conversation that we are about to hear that, uh, Casey had just a few days ago with, uh, Laura Forczyk. We'll go into that now and then rejoin you afterward to, um, close out this, uh, monthly Space Policy Edition.
Casey Dreier: Laura Forczyk, welcome to the Space Policy Edition of Planetary Radio.
Laura Forczyk: Thanks for having me on, Casey.
Casey Dreier: Well, I wanted to have you on for a while, and we found the great excuse to [laughs][00:21:00] bring you on because something happened just in the last week for us, which was the release of this new NASA authorization bill in the House of Representatives, that took a very dramatic approach to, uh, NASA's human spaceflight program and has caused quite a bit of stir, I would say [laughs], among the space policy community and the space community.
I noticed you on Twitter had, uh, your expertise and take on some of the provisions in it, and it differed a little bit from mine. And I always wanna emphasize to anyone who's listening, we're not gonna debate this bill, but what I'm really interested in this to have a couple of perspectives on what this bill does.
So, Laura, maybe take it from here and say, you know, from your big picture, maybe just outline what is in this bill that caused all of this stir in the space community?
Laura Forczyk: It's a bit of a long bill, so we won't cover all of it, but the- the main [crosstalk 00:21:49]...
Casey Dreier: [laughs]. Well, how much do you have? We could go for a couple of hours, I suppose.
Laura Forczyk: [laughs]. We certainly could, but we'll stick to the main points of discussion, which is the NASA human spaceflight program, the Moon to Mars program. And in a way, [00:22:00] looking at it in- in context, it's not that surprising that this bill took a different turn. Because now, we have the Democrats in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives whereas previously, the Republicans were in charge of the House.
So if you look back, a couple of years ago, I did a review of how Republican and Democrat Congress people, how they look at human spaceflight in terms of whether we should go to the moon, whether we should go to Mars, even tying in the asteroid program that the Obama administration had put together, and you'll find a bit of a distinction where most of Congress agrees that we should do moon to Mars, which it has been the plan for several decades. If you look back to the Apollo program, um, the plan always was to send humans to the moon, and then onward to Mars. However, [laughs], it's been a long, complicated journey to get there, and we're not quite there yet. We keep changing directions.
Um, and so if you look back, you can see that there are a number of democratic Congress people that do not agree with the idea of sending astronauts back to the moon. And in fact, [00:23:00] if you look back to President Obama, he stated so in his big address, uh, with his, um, policy initiatives. So, [laughs], what we see here is just a return to that kind of mindset where if we're gonna go to the moon, if the Trump administration insists, through Space Policy Directive 1 that was signed a couple years ago, that we're gonna go back to the moon, then we're gonna do it as quickly as possible.
Now, [laughs], there are a number of people like myself who disagree with this idea, but the idea is that you do not need the moon to have a successful Mars program. And, [laughs], so if your concept is you want to get to Mars as quickly as possible, and I'm- I'm talking human exploration, of course, if you wanna send humans to Mars, which I think that the majority of the public would actually be more excited about sending humans to Mars, um, and- and President Trump himself seems more excited about sending humans to Mars, if you wanna do this, then you wanna minimize any distractions in between. And so if you see the moon as a distraction, you wanna minimize it, and that's what this bill sort of does.
It- it does allow for the Artemis program sending astronauts to the moon, [00:24:00] but it does so in a way that will minimize the activities on the moon and, uh, hopefully, in the way the bill is written. And it says a physically responsible means of a balanced program [laughs], and we can debate what those terms mean, physically responsible and balanced, but that's the way that they're approaching this bill.
Casey Dreier: Let's just emphasize here that for the next, uh, few minutes, we're gonna be focusing on the human spaceflight provisions because, I mean, just in the old tradition of space policy, what else do you argue about? Is moon or Mars. And this bill, [laughs]-
Laura Forczyk: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: ... just really goes into that. So, thank you. That was a- that was a- a good overview, I think. How serious in a sense do you take sending humans to Mars? A lot of it all kinda comes down to this idea of the stepping stone concept, right, which you said is, historically, it was always been seen the case, we go to the moon, and then we go to Mars. But there's a lot of ambiguity, I think, in what that means in terms of what does it really mean to use the moon as a stepping stone?
And I think what we're seeing is a philosophical difference, at least, [00:25:00] let's- let's take a very generous interpretation of what's in this bill and say that the- the leadership of the House and the, uh, interesting to me that it also had cosponsors of the Republican leaders of... in the minority of the House on this bill, it's- it's much more saying that the moon is just basically, as you said, uh, uh, a stopping point. You do a few test landings, but don't get all your resources caught up on the surface, focus your efforts on getting to Mars and really narrowing the responsibilities of what NASA can do at the moon.
In that sense it seem to me really interesting trying to put these roadblocks on a sense of what NASA's trying to do. I'd like to hear from more your perspective 'cause, Laura, you have a background in planetary science as- as well as your- as your policy expertise. What are some of the arguments for not doing that? What are some of the benefits, big picture, of spending more resources on a more expansive lunar project before going to Mars?
Laura Forczyk: Yeah, you're absolutely right, it's a philosophical difference. And I come from a background where I- I've studied lunar and Martian [inaudible 00:25:59] dynamics, [00:26:00] with a look at both how the scientific fundamentals of how dust moves on these planetary bodies with lower gravity, or even in microgravity if you're looking at planetary ring formation or asteroids, that kind of thing. Um, but there's- there's more than just the pure science, there's also the exploration aspect. So if we are going to be long-term thinking about, um, moving outward beyond planet Earth, then we are going to have some kind of off-Earth operations, whether that continues to be in microgravity, such as space stations, or whether those are on another planetary body, um, it could be the moon, it could be Mars, it could be, [laughs], we could go back to asteroids with the next administration, who knows?
Um, the point is though that you're gonna have to worry about living off the land [inaudible 00:26:41] utilization. I did a lot of this in graduate school and after. And the idea is that you wanna use the resources that are already at your disposal wherever you're going, so you don't need to bring everything with you from planet Earth. It's just like thinking about in the past how, um, travelers, ex- explorers, they didn't bring everything from [00:27:00] their home world to [laughs]- to wherever they were going. They use what's already there. Now I... it's a flawed analogy because Earth, no matter where you go on Earth, it's still more hospitable than anywhere else that we know of in space yet.
So [laughs], it- it's going to be challenging no matter where we're going to live off the land, but it's still a much more responsible, sustainable perspective than trying to bring everything from Earth. And the idea is, especially, to use the water where we go. Water will be the most valuable resource in space once we learn how to extract it from either polarized caps on the Mars or, you know, the- the craters on the moon or the lunar regolith or, um, asteroids, or wherever it is that we go, we need to use that water for not only human benefit, human life, we need water in so many different ways. But the idea is we also use it in other ways, whether it's building materials or, uh, rocket propellants, or any other means that we can use this water, the hydrogen and oxygen.
And there are other [00:28:00] materials too that we can use depending on where we're going, um, and I don't wanna get too deep into the specifics of ISRU, but there's a lot of similarities between the moon and Mars in terms of how we can test ISRU technologies and operations. You don't have to, strictly speaking [laughs], you do not have to use ISRU on the moon to learn how they do ISRU on Mars. There are some differences, um, you know, atmosphere and gravity and a few other things. However, with the moon being right there in our own backyard, very short distance compared to Mars, it's most feasible for most of us [laughs] to think that we can easily get the back and forth from the moon. We can easily test new technologies. We can easily have these quick t... demonstrations that maybe we can have sustainable lunar technology, sustainable lunar basis, if you will, [inaudible 00:28:50].
And thinking about it that way where not only are we testing the science and testing the engineering, but we're also expanding human life beyond our own world. And [laughs][00:29:00] one of the things that is controversial about this bill is that it does not allow ISRU on the moon, it does not allow lunar basis funded under the Moon to Mars program, funded under Artemis.
And so what you're seeing here is that Congress is a bit of a micromanager in this bill [laughs]. They are really trying to dictate what NASA can and cannot do. And so instead of les... letting the experts at NASA think it's a good idea to have ISRU technology tested on the moon, it's deciding for NASA that they should not be allowed to do so under Artemis. Now, the argument is that maybe they can fund it outside of the Moon to Mars program, however, I think that's quite unlikely to think that they're suddenly going to get a whole bunch of chunk of money outside of Artemis to do lunar ISRU or a lunar base. I don't know. What do you think, Casey?
Casey Dreier: Well, yeah, I, uh, I thought it was fascinating and- and, you know, those particular provisions and the law itself called out specifically the ISRU and no permanently occupied [00:30:00] bases. So it really was I think interesting to see Congress trying to narrow the scope of any lunar presence. The idea I think of that kind of micromanagement, I go back and forth in it, to be honest with you. Ultimately, I try to, you know, there's this big picture, which is NASA's, uh, example of a public investment, right? We live in a democratic country with a representative system. There's nothing in the constitution that says NASA has to exist or that we need to spend money on NASA.
So ultimately, there's always gonna be some oversight role of Congress and Congress who build coalitions by keeping members of Congress and their districts happy, that's just how our system is structured. It's an inherent aspect of it. That doesn't mean I like [laughs][inaudible 00:30:44] at the same time. I feel that it does tend to say it's more of a phil... again, it's more of this philosophical approach. And- and it's actually kind of interesting to me. We go back a little bit, you mentioned this earlier, that the president himself appears to be very focused on [00:31:00] Mars in a way that his actual administration is not. And that's something I think that was really thrown into real, uh, relief by this bill.
I think this bill is actually a stronger alignment with the president's stated interest in going to Mars than the moon. You've seen every time he speaks extemporaneously about the moon, he says, "Oh, yeah, but it's just a step to get to Mars. I'm told I have to do this because we, then, it gets us to Mars." It depends on, you know, what you mean is, do you wanna get to Mars in the near future or in a big, long-term concept? By limiting this activity, it certainly demonstrates, and I think a lot of the pushback is kind of revealed in some way, that a lot of people, whether or not this is the intent of NASA, a lot of people seem to see Artemis as a moon first program, right? That it's- i- it really isn't about getting to Mars immediately, it's m... it's about establishing a long-term, uh, sus- sustainable presence at the moon. And that really is different than what the president says.
And so seeing this type of [00:32:00] limitations, I think, from a policy perspective, if you take Mars as the most important thing. Unless you're willing to fund both programs to a- a level that we haven't really seen since the Apollo era, you kinda have to pick and choose, unless you're okay with pushing Mars kind of indefinitely into the future. So it's been interesting to kinda, e- e- even if I don't agree with the micromanagement aspect of it, at least in these two things, it does seem to be a reasonable policy exercise.
Mat Kaplan: Great conversation, huh? Don't go away, much more of Casey and his guest, Laura Forczyk, are just ahead.
Speaker 5: Hey, Planetary Radio listeners, The Planetary Society now has an official online store. We've teamed up with Chop Shop, known for their space mission posters, to bring you space-inspired art and merchandise. You can find exclusive Planetary Society t-shirts, posters and more. Visit planet.ly/spaceshop to learn more. That's [00:33:00] planet.ly/spaceshop.
Laura Forczyk: Yeah, NASA does have a finite amount of money to work with and I think most of us wish that NASA would get quite an increase in its budget. However, it's not reality. We're not going to see Apollo era levels of, uh, of NASA's budget come back. And so what we have to work with is a finite amount of money that Congress is willing to give NASA, and the problem is that NASA is a bit over-extended for what Congress asks it to do. Within this bill, Congress mandates that the International Space Station continue to at least 2028. And so we have a very large human spaceflight expense on the International Space Station, which is pretty important for our understanding of how humans live and work in space.
And there's a lot in this bill that talks about testing ECLSS systems, environmental control and life support system, and testing space suits, and testing other technologies on the International Space Station. However, it is a very large amount of money [00:34:00] that is spent each year to keep the International Space Station up and flying. And so we have that big budget right there and we also have NASA trying to pretty much create from scratch here, um, this brand new system, the Space Launch System, SLS, and Orion, and they've been working on it for quite some time and it's been quite delayed, and that's a big monetary expense as well.
And in this budget, it gives even more flights to SLS, it wants at least two flights to the moon using SLS and- and it wants to, you know, have an increased amount of money go to this rocket. And each year, we do see an increased amount of money go towards SLS and Orion. It's very popular within Congress. However, it is a very large expense. So if NASA wants to have the International Space Station and have this lunar program and have a Mars program and all the other great science that NASA does, it [laughs]- it has to work within the budget that it has, but also, NASA has to keep asking for more money.
So we saw last year, Jim Bridenstine, the NASA Administrator, asked [00:35:00] Congress for just a little bit more money, not enough to have the Artemis program, but just $1.6 billion. Congress did not follow through with that request. They gave a little bit more money, but not quite enough. So if Congress wants to see how much Artemis is going to cost over the next five or 10 years, they might get a bit of a sticker shock if Jim Bridenstine of NASA comes back and says it's actually going to cost this amount of money if we're gonna do two flights of SLS to the moon and if we're going to prepare to go to Mars, it's gonna cost a lot of money, and don't know how that.... how Congress is going to respond to that request.
Casey Dreier: That's a really good point. It... I really saw a lot of unfunded mandates made in this bill. Just to clarify for our listeners, this is an authorization, so it's setting policy. They can recommend funding if they want to, and the interesting thing though [laughs] is that they neglected to provide any recommended [laughs] funding. So you've seen, uh, authorization bills that give funding for three years in advance, and they said, "This is what we would authorize NASA to have." You didn't even see that, but you're right, they- they authorize or they mandate [00:36:00] the existence of not just this, uh, increased flight rate for the SLS, they want to upgrade the SLS itself with an exploration upper stage, they mandate the pre-formulation start of a Mars transfer vehicle.
You're having a lot of just new programs added on to NASA's, uh, programmatic responsibilities without canceling any science missions, thank goodness, but at the same time, they're kind of implying that NASA's budget will have to increase. And it reminds me that Congress itself has these factions within it, you know. We- we tend to talk about Congress as the single entity, right? Congress does this or Congress does that. But really, we're talking about Congressional committees that write these bills. So a- a Congressional committee on the authorizers, for the most part, is completely different than the people who actually fund NASA year-to-year on the appropriations committee.
We don't know really from this bill how much work they've done with their colleagues on appropriations to say, "Is this something we're okay asking for lots of more money for?" [00:37:00] And that gives me actually quite a bit of pause for the long-term viability of this if they're trying to invest even more in these big ticket human spaceflight programs while maintaining everything else that they do, they're setting up NASA to be in a very cost constrained situation, or, which I don't think is necessarily the case [laughs], they're setting up NASA to get lots of more money, uh, in the future.
We're kinda dancing around this, but I'd say maybe the most controversial provision in this bill, I'd like to hear you talk about a little bit, which has to do with all this, which is the lunar landers. So in addition to mandating that the Space Launch System rocket be the only launch vehicle for, uh, lunar landing, they also mandate that the government itself owns the lunar lander. Why is that kind of a big deal in this context? And what does that mean and how does that affect the current effort with Artemis?
Laura Forczyk: Right. One of the things that you'll see, uh, some members of Congress and the Trump administration propose is that by increasing public-private partnerships, you decrease the cost of spaceflight activities. [00:38:00] And so that was the idea behind the NASA COTS program, the Commer- Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program, the idea behind, um, the commercial crew program or NASA purchasing flights from Boeing and SpaceX to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, and it's the idea behind creating a program that will purchase services not only for, um, human landers, but also robotic landers, the Eclipse program, for example. And the idea is that by leveraging the technologies and capabilities of commercial partners and the competition between most partners, costs will go down for NASA overall.
And so NASA has a few proposals in the works right now. Um, I know that officially, we know of three teams, there's probably a fourth team as well, of commercial companies that wish to propose human landers to the moon. Everybody has seen the- the blue moon concept of this big lunar lander, and it's... that's put out by Blue Origin. [00:39:00] And they also have a team. They- they have three other companies, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Draper, that they wanna bring onboard as one of the teams proposing to NASA to purchase services landing astronauts to the moon using that mission. Um, there's three other, uh, teams as well that wanna propose.
Uh, the idea is that NASA will choose two, maybe even three, of these companies, these teams, to then have them compete against each other and develop a system and maybe not all three, maybe not both of them, maybe just one team will succeed, but then that's one team and it will still be cheaper than what NASA can do by itself or by traditional contractor.
And here's where we might need to discuss the difference between contracting. So there is something called, uh, cost-plus contracting, and that is [inaudible 00:39:47] used with NASA, and you'll see that, for example, with the SLS and the Orion. It's- it's when NASA picks a large prime contractor and [inaudible 00:39:57] them, but NASA owns the concept, NASA [00:40:00] owns the- the vehicle, NASA owns all the decisions that go into it. Um, so NASA has complete ownership over it. That concept of NASA ownership really influences a lot of people, especially in Congress. Congress likes the idea of NASA owning its own system, especially the Senate. The Senate has been a big supporter of the SLS and Orion system.
And last year, the House held a meeting between Thomas Stafford and Thomas Young, this was back in November where they also advocated this kind of NASA ownership. And so that's where you got that influence in this bill of, um, instead of commercial companies owning their own systems and NASA purchasing those services, NASA should own those systems. The idea is then it might increase the costs, but for some people, it might be more reliable. However, if you look historically, is it really more reliable, given the delays of pretty much every NASA program that's ever existed [laughs]? And so, you can debate whether or not it's actually going to save any money [00:41:00] or be, uh, save any time, be more reliable if NASA owns the program versus purchasing it from commercial companies.
And I should also add that commercial companies also experience significant delays, as we've seen with commercial crew program and others.
Casey Dreier: That's a really interesting point. And I think, again, kind of this illustration of the philosophical difference of approach, you're right that commercial contracting methods or the commercial public-private partnership methods haven't proven to be on time, they have, I think, demonstrated that the amount that you go over budget tends to be the onus of the private entity's responsibility. That's one of the motivations for being on budget.
But we have this experiment in the past of NASA having the classic cost-plus contracting methods for its major aerospace programs and those have always [laughs] gone over budget and always gone overtime. So the interesting thing to me by mandating the government ownership of a lunar lander, you're kind [00:42:00] of throwing NASA the worst possible opportunity that you're- you're asking it to fund what will almost necessarily be a very expensive project. And you're trying to do that and then land it twice on the moon and ironically, I think by pursuing that focus in- in pursuit of any sort of long-term Mars mission, you would actually be undermining the very effort to devote more resources to Mars by buying into what would likely be $12 billion to $20 billion development cost for a new crew lunar lander.
Laura Forczyk: Yeah, I- I agree. And it goes back to that term, physical responsibility, and how you interpret that. Because if your goal is to get humans to Mars, then you do not necessarily need a lunar program at all, uh, at least a lunar human program. And so is it physically responsible spending a very large amount of money repeating Apollo? Because if you're not gonna be doing new technology with ISRU or creating a sustainable lunar base, then it's really just a repeat of the Apollo program with short little sorties to the moon [00:43:00] twice a year for a few years. And is that really the responsible thing to do with taxpayer dollars? Why not just go directly to Mars?
Now I personally, [laughs], I- I find myself being a, uh, very strong lunar advocate where I think that not only is the moon a stepping stone, to use someone else's phrase, it's a enabling asset. It is truly a means of opening up the rest of the solar system. And I believe that it is very vital that not only do we continue to move forward with plans to go to the moon for the stepping stone approach, but also for, um, just making a sustainable spaceflight.
I- I know we're gonna talk about this later, but I just finished writing a book where, um, sustainability of human spaceflight was actually one of the major themes, um, just generally speaking, consensus wise, people don't wanna see a repeat of Apollo where we did something grand and then we stopped doing it. We wanna do something grand and then continue on with the things that we have done by staying there, by creating this long-term, [00:44:00] um, approach. And whether we do that with skipping of the moon and going straight to Mars, or whether we do that with the moon first and creating a sustainable lunar base there and moving on to Mars after that, two different philosophies, but either way, I think that's the more physically responsible thing than the way it's approached in this bill, which is these quick sorties to the moon and then [laughs], moving on to Mars.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, so I guess this kinda brings up an interesting question from me, which is, I tend to be ambivalent honestly about human spaceflight in terms of the most immediate consequences of it, but do you think Artemis, as conceived, is actually really a moon program and it- it won't really get us to Mars in the- in the near-term? Do you see that as the primary goal or do you think it- it- it is capable of getting us to Mars any faster by pursuing the sort of sustainable lunar presence?
Laura Forczyk: I think you can see it both ways. I think that with the idea of Artemis going there, not only with commercial partners, [00:45:00] but also with international partners, and right now, we see sort of an international consensus to go to the moon. We've got the European Space Agency's moon village concept and we've got, um, the- the Russian partners and the Chinese, the- the Chinese aren't our partners but they do have a very strong interest in going to the moon, and so right now globally, we see a lot of interest in creating a- a sort of, uh, uh, activity base on the moon. And so we wanna take advantage of that kinda momentum.
And I do think that, personally [laughs], I- I see how, um, with the ISRU technology and research that I've done, I can see how ISRU technology and operational [inaudible 00:45:37] knowledge and being able really learn how to collaborate on a major project th... like this internationally, I can see how that enables long-term sustained approach to Mars. However, I can also see the other approach, where if your goal is Mars, then go to Mars. I understand that point of view and I can see how people would advocate for that and I don't see that in this bill. What I [00:46:00] see in this bill is sort of lip service to the moon and then Mars, whereas I think through Mars direct approach would not even have Artemis, uh, the way it's structured right now.
Casey Dreier: Uh, you raise a good, another good point about international partners. The last year or so, NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, has been running around, making a pretty good effort at signing up international commitments into the Artemis program at the moon. And I remember back in the Obama presidency, a critique of the asteroid and then Mars approach was from Scott Pace, who now serves as the Executive Secretary of the National Space Council. His whole argument for the moon was that other people can go with us and that there's an international interest in lunar exploration because of its relative proximity.
And I think seeing what's been happening in the last few years, his prediction really was correct, that you've seen much more willingness to engage because of the practical access that the moon grants you compared to Mars, which is not just far [00:47:00] away but, you know, you're stuck with your 26-month cycle of- of launch opportunities. The other fear that I had from this bill is that it would send a message to international partners that this lunar effort is- is quite unstable and it might make them more reticent about committing their resources to enabling this sort of ongoing exploration with NASA. Was that your take as well?
Laura Forczyk: Well, we know that this bill is not going to pass as written, and we've already seen [crosstalk 00:47:27].
Casey Dreier: [laughs]. Well, we should maybe... yeah, we should mention that too. [laughs].
Laura Forczyk: [laughs]. [crosstalk 00:47:30]-
Casey Dreier: Yeah. Why do you think that is?
Laura Forczyk: ... I wouldn't take this initial draft to be that seriously. 'Cause when you- when you look at all the amendments that aren't even proposed and- and some amendments that, um, I think will be proposed in the coming weeks, and then look at the- the proposed Senate version that hasn't... doesn't exist yet, but you can kind of imagine what it will based on the priorities of the Senate, and you can see how they're gonna need to reconcile a lot of things between the House and the Senate before it is passed, um, and sent to the president's office to be signed into law. [laughs]. And so if [00:48:00] I was an international partner, I would just let the U.S. political process play out.
Um, there's, uh, another complication in that we have an election this year where we're going to elect new members of Congress and we may or may not elect a new president. And so [laughs], I mean, who knows what's going to happen in the next year in space policy, whether we continue on the Trump administration's plan or whether a new administration will come in and change everything.
Casey Dreier: I think that's actually one of the most concrete lessons that we can take from this is that not only is this... this bill will change, it- it may not become law. It has a lot kind of headwinds against it, but it does say that there is not a consensus right now on the near-term focus of human spaceflight at NASA. And that Artemis, as we see it, is really a function of what the executive branch has been supporting. And absent that executive support for Artemis as is, I don't see Congress stepping up to carry that torch. And so, you're right, we're gonna have a very... it's a [00:49:00] very tenuous position actually, I think, as what's been revealed seeing this is that Congress is very much concerned about other issues beyond getting to the moon quickly.
Something else I just wanted to bring up in terms of what you mentioned. So we had a hearing or Congress had a hearing on this bill, oh, not a hearing, a markup on this bill, uh, a few... just a few days ago from when we recorded this. Y- you mentioned a few of the things, but what were your takeaways from watching that hearing for what it means for the future of this bill just in the House of Representatives?
Laura Forczyk: Yeah. My takeaway, my main one, is that this is not an anti-NASA bill. Everybody on that committee very much supports NASA and supports exploration. I think this is a best effort that is imperfect, and you didn't hear a couple congressmen talk about how this is not an ideal bill and it's not the bill they would've proposed but they're willing to work with their, um, fellow Congress people to, um, improve upon this bill. And so it's just part of the process.
And another thing that really stood out to me was that it was- it was like a calm down moment [laughs], 'cause I think after that draft was passed, and it was passed [00:50:00] very late on a Friday afternoon, um, a- and that's not typically when you'd release a bill if you're wanting people to really look at it, so it's [crosstalk 00:50:08]...
Casey Dreier: Yeah, ruined my Friday night [laughs] when that came out.
Laura Forczyk: Yeah. [laughs]. I think it was trying to come under the radar and I think people [inaudible 00:50:14] because of that, including myself, where I'm like, "What are they trying to hide by releasing it at this time?" And- and I think that the- the markup that we saw was a bit of a common effort. It was like, okay, we know this is not a final version of the bill and we know that these dates are not set in stone. The- the 2028, which is what this bill proposes landing humans on the moon by 2028, that is not set in stone, with the exception of- of Representative Ed Perlmutter, no one things that going to Mars by 2020, I'm sorry, 2033 is set in stone. [laughs]. And so it's- it's really an evolving process.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. I thought the hearing was extraordinary in that sense that you saw a lot of people openly acknowledge that this is a work in progress and we're still gonna figure this out. The next step I guess is that it goes up to the full science committee. [00:51:00] It was passed out of the space subcommittee, goes up to the full science committee. So there's gonna be more opportunities for various number of amendments to modify the bill, even before the House as a whole would vote on it, even before the Senate then would consider its own, uh, version in reconciling the two together.
Uh, something else that I saw interesting though too, as you pointed out, a- and thank you for making this- this point was that the- the people writing this bill are not insidious, I- I don't think, at- at any way. And you heard Kendra Horn, the Chairwoman of the space subcommittee, state a few things like this, something that really stuck with me is she was saying that this bill is responsive to the testimony we heard in our committee that NASA needs to have a higher flight rate for SLS for it to be safe, it needs to have total control for safety issues regarding, uh, lunar lander, and that this is responsive to that in order to make NASA overall successful.
Now you can differ [00:52:00] on the philosophy, but it- it is true that the people that they had, as you mentioned earlier, uh, Stafford and Young, and Doug Cooke, I believe, who was there all said that to them, that this is consistent with that hearing. And so they're not pulling this out of nowhere. This is, I believe, uh, a good faith attempt to improve NASA, but it, uh, it- it is I think I believe optimistic in terms of how it approaches NASA's classic methods of solving problems. It's- it's- it's a little more skeptical than I think it should be on a new experiments of public-private partnerships, even though they aren't proven, and far too reliant on classic contracting methods that have demonstrably failed to address their timeline and cost requirements.
Laura Forczyk: Right. And- and Congress, this is true with any topic, the Congress is only as good as the guidance that it gets. The specific people that you mentioned who were witnesses in the hearings in the past year, Thomas Stafford and Thomas Young, they are both [00:53:00] very distinguished people, but they're also very old. And I'm not gonna put this in a generational war or anything like that, it's just, when you're asking very old people who are... who were around with the, you know, let's say the more traditional things that NASA have done, they're going to see things in a more traditional status [inaudible 00:53:17].
Doug Cooke himself has been also in this- this status quo kind of mentality, um, where he, right now, is a consultant who's largely played by Boeing, and Boeing is a traditional brand contractor. So if you're going to bring in witnesses that are going to give you one perspective and maybe, uh, a different perspective has been left out of the conversation, then you might not have the best advice to work with when you're crafting these kinds of bills.
And I do not know, um, you know, who else might be on the docket for future witnesses, but I hope that they can get some more diverse, some younger and maybe some more commercial, um, you know, some more emerging, commercial, let's say, new space, I don't have the term, but, uh, you know, somebody who has a different perspective how things could [00:54:00] become rather than how they've always been.
Casey Dreier: Is there anything in this bill that you like? Is there any positive aspects of this bill, uh, beyond what we've just talked about?
Laura Forczyk: Absolutely. We only discussed a very small portion of this bill.
Casey Dreier: Yes. [laughs].
Laura Forczyk: It covers quite a lot of things. Um, I myself am a supporter of the International Space Station and want it to continue. I don't know how we're gonna progress with it becoming commercialized. I- I do like that we're continuing to fund it through at least 2028. There was a part of this bill that wants I think to restrict perhaps some of the more space [inaudible 00:54:31], that I don't necessarily agree with, but I do like how they continue to fund the science of the International Space Station. Um, a- and there's a number of other post-science, uh, applications here in this bill.
Casey Dreier: Interesting point about the ISS. One thing that I- I agree with, which is that it would prioritize research related to deep space exploration on the ISS, which I think is probably the most relevant and potentially impactful role that the ISS can play in the context of sending humans [00:55:00] out into deep space. So, prioritizing long duration spaceflight, prioritizing your life support systems, prioritizing research under the human psychological and physiological consequences of that, that, to me, makes a lot of sense, and I was really happy to see that.
In terms of science, I mean, us here at The Planetary Society, I saw some great language on planetary defense that went into establishing, uh, the long-term integrated program of planetary defense throughout government, not just at NASA, and endorsing the idea of a deep space telescope to search for near-earth objects. I think that's huge, and I was very happy to see that language.
Laura Forczyk: Yeah, I- I completely agree. I also like the emphasis on CubeSats. Uh, we've seen in the past that, several years, how CubeSats have really revolutionized what can be done in space. And that's both, um, you know, looking down on Earth as well as looking [inaudible 00:55:49] and planetary science. And I think that, I'm gratified to see, uh, in this bill Congress advocate for more use of Cube... of all small sats, and CubeSats in particular.
Casey Dreier: [00:56:00] Maybe just to cap the discussion on this bill. We know it's... a lot has to yet happen. It'll be changing. But if you were in your role, uh, in Astralytical consulting with, let's say, a commercial space company right now, what would you recommend that they do? Would you recommend that they be worried? Or how should they engage? How should the industry engage to make this bill better going forward?
Laura Forczyk: Whoever has a voice in this bill that they do not see reflected, um, in what's written here need to speak out. Whether they speak out individually or speak out as a group, there are a number of coalitions and organizations that can speak together as one and really amplify voices. I myself, um, signed a letter in support of lunar exploration, for example. So if you're a private company that don't see yourself [inaudible 00:56:44] in this bill, uh, or perhaps wanna change some of the language, um, reach out to Congress because this is a draft. And the more people who give feedback, the more people who really express what could be rather than what already is in this language, I think the better. Uh, and of course, do [00:57:00] so in- in a professional and respectful way. If you as an individual [crosstalk 00:57:03]-
Casey Dreier: [laughs].
Laura Forczyk: ... you can call your elected representative, um, whether that's your Congress president or your senator, and let them know what you think. Anybody can do that. If you don't wanna call, you can write an email or a letter, or you can go visit in person if you happen to have the ability to do so. Uh, and that's always taken seriously. But of course, do so respectfully.
Casey Dreier: I think that's a great point. I always try to point out to my members at The Planetary Society and others that if you're not out there connecting and communicating with your representative in Congress, somebody else is, and you have no idea what they're saying [laughs]. And you may have... you may be totally in disagreement with what their opinion is on this topic. If you don't engage, you're functionally irrelevant in these types of discussions. Uh, it- it really does come down to, uh, overall engagement with your representatives on these topics so they know what they should do to try to represent you and other [00:58:00] constituents.
Laura Forczyk: Exactly. And- and like I said, it- it's always a feedback mechanism. They- they can only do a good of job as the guidance that they get. Because these members of Congress, they're not scientists, they're not... most of them are not scientists, most of them are not engineers. They have a passion though. You can see when they- they speak and when they write, they have a passion for space, the ones that are on this committee. And so, they're trying to do the best that they can. And- and so really, communicating what could be better or a new way of thinking things, or even introducing them to topics that are or projects that they've not heard of I think is really beneficial.
Casey Dreier: So I think this is a good time to bring up the fact that you are a newly published author, so congratulation. You just released the book, Rise of the Space Age Millennials. And we kind of obliquely touched upon this topic, but I'd love to hear just a little bit about this book and kinda what are the big topics you approached and what motivated you to approach this writing project?
Laura Forczyk: Yeah, thanks. This has been about three and a half years in the making. Um, I am a millennial myself, an older millennial, [00:59:00] and I did not see millennial voices reflected at least positively or fairly in the news media. And [laughs] there's all these stereotypes about millennials and it just didn't ring true to me. So I wanted to reach out to other millennials who were either working in the space industry or studying to work in the space sector, um, what their perspectives are and what their opinions were, how they work best, what goals and motivators and inspirations they have, and it ended up being really fascinating look at this diversity of opinions. And some of them were quite diverse, quite spread out and some of them were- were pretty much a consensus one way or the other.
And I explored topics such as what inspires them to go into space, for example. With last year, the 50th anniversary of Apollo, we- we rightly celebrated, uh, the grand achievements of 50 years ago, but millennials were not alive 50 years ago, millennials did not live through that grand achievement. And so that's likely not inspiration for most millennials, but what is inspiring is SpaceX [01:00:00] and the new space movement and some of the really great scientific discoveries. I mean, the- the rovers on Mars and- and the exoplanet discoveries and some of these really great scientific achievements over the past couple decades.
And so really diving into, you know, what inspires people, what excites people, why do we go into space, why do we explore space at all, and then how people work best together, you know, exploring things like multitasking [laughs], or exploring how they feel about their national collaborations. One of the things that really popped out to me is that we're talking a lot about space policy and the motivators and you'll find a lot of times, uh, common rallying cry is America first or American leadership in space, uh, the national pride concept, which really does not ring true for many mi- millennials. It really is not a concept that millennials get behind too much.
What's more common is seeing how space can unite the planet, how space brings us together for international collaboration, and- and there was some really idealistic interviewees. I- I [01:01:00] interviewed over 100 millennials, and some are really quite idealistic that they think space will bring us together, kind of the United Federation of Planets kind of idea where Starfleet will bring us all together, you know, [laughs]. Um, it has been, uh, an idealist point of view, but, y- you know, you get that kind of perspective where people see it as a true beautiful thing that humanity does for the benefit of humanity. And that's why we go on to space, and of course, some of those grand goals that millennials think that we'll accomplish in the next half century.
You know, we've already, in the past century, we've gone to the moon and we've done all these other things, what do millennials think we'll do in the next 50 years. And I really explored some of those topics, do- do millennials think we'll get back to the moon, do millennials think that we'll send humans to Mars? Most do. Most are really excited about going to Mars, actually. And what other things that do millennials foresee that we'll do in millennial lifetime.
And it was really exciting to write this book 'cause it ended up being such a positive outlook, a refreshing outlook, I think that in our field, it's easy to get cynical, but the perspectives and goals of these millennials I interviewed, for the most part, they were really positive.
Casey Dreier: That's [01:02:00] interesting that you raised this distinction of the motivation between millennials and the younger generation of folks and the Apollo era. I- it's really true. I- I also speak as an elder millennial, I think, '82 puts me right on the edge [laughs] of- of millennialism. I grew up with Voyager, that was my, into space, was Voyager was my, you know, sucked me right in. And Apollo was, uh, always a historical abstract concept. But the dichotomy is I think is that at the political level, there's not that many millennials in power yet. And so the rhetoric that you tend to see happening even right now in Congress or in the White House, executive branch, wherever, tends to be dominated by an Apollo prism because of just the average age of- of that, people on those positions are much older.
Do you think that has a- a distancing consequence? Do you think that makes space seem abstract? Does that why [01:03:00] maybe millennials tend to be more engaged with commercial space that seems to be happening to them here, now, as opposed to recapturing some distant memory of success?
Laura Forczyk: I think you're exactly right. People see what's happening in front of them so they see two boosters landing simultaneously to launching a- a Tesla car into space playing, you know, David Bowie. [laughs]. [inaudible 01:03:23] see these really amazing things happening in front of them and how can they not get inspired where there's still conspiracy theories about whether or not we landed on the moon, right? [laughs]. And so, um, if things get too distant in the past, people start to question it or people start to forget it. Um, the things that are happening right now, people get excited about.
And so for the most part, NASA was not, uh, a huge source of excitement, except for- for the people who were working on specific NASA programs that I interviewed. Um, and NASA does fantastic things and it's really the- the- the science exploration of NASA, the planetary science exploration, the- the sending, um, new [inaudible 01:03:56] out to Pluto. You know, those kinds of grand achievements that people see right [01:04:00] now, that's what excites them. And NASA still does those grand things, but I think the commercial space industry is doing more and more because it's growing so quickly.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. And I wonder if part of it too is that commercial space, kind of as conceived of now and it's somewhat nascent stage, it feels like there is a role for you in it, you being kind of a generic you. You can be an entrepreneur, you can be the next Elon Musk, you... if you have an idea, suddenly, you don't have to go and work for a large government contractor for 30 years and maybe see something implemented, at least as the fantasy is, you could go start your own company and get an opportunity to launch something in two years, right, and become the next Rocket Labs or so forth. And I wonder how much that adds to this connection of, it just seems not just immediate that it's happening, but there's pathways for younger people to participate now.
Laura Forczyk: You're absolutely right on target. Um, two of the interviewees that I- I did for the book, they are CEOs of their own company. So you don't necessarily have [01:05:00] to be an entrepreneur to work in space industry. You can see all the opportunities blossom in front of you and see just how many there are, and it's not just in the United States, you don't wanna leave out other countries that also have growing space sectors, whether that's government program or commercial program or both. In fact, I tallied up 24 new government space agencies since millennials have been born, [laughs], and so you're really seeing this [inaudible 01:05:25] proliferation of space activity all around the world, and that's both international government agencies as well as commercial companies.
And people do see a lot more opportunity not just for the scientists and engineers, but for any other discipline to get- to get involved. I mean, we just launched an oven to the International Space Station to bake cookies [laughs]. I mean, when you see that kinda thing happening in front of you, you can see the diversity of opportunities available. And space tourism was also a big one. You know, it hasn't really truly come to fruition yet, you had a few go up with space [inaudible 01:05:54] to the International Space Station, but the idea, the concept of space tours that really captures a lot of people's [01:06:00] imaginations, where they can picture themselves being a space tourism guy.
Casey Dreier: So, maybe to unite kind of the two topics then that we've been discussing in this interview, do you think bills like HR 5666 that reorient NASA's program back to kinda big contractors, push the dates far back, do you think that ultimately undermines and frustrates the kind of younger generation o- or maybe makes them cynical to what NASA and government can do and- and drives them more into the idea of commercial space?
Laura Forczyk: Yeah. Well- well, first off, most people aren't paying this close attention [laughs], [crosstalk 01:06:37]...
Casey Dreier: [laughs]. What are you talking about? This is obviously the most important news happening right now in this country.
Laura Forczyk: You are correct. And you- you can feel the frustration. It's not just within millennials, it's within- within anybody who's wanting to do more in space and haven't seen the progress. But especially with the millennials that I interviewed, they don't wanna see the stalling of what's been going on for the past several decades, you know. They wanna move forward. They, [01:07:00] every single person I interviewed who- who responded to this question, they- they said that they foresee humans going to the moon and going on to Mars within their lifetime, every single one of them. And so they wanna make that happen. And in two chapters of the book, I explore how to make that happen, how, from the millennial point of view.
I'm not saying it's an easy problem to solve, but it's a problem out there that millennials want solved. We want to see NASA and the space sector as a whole move forward, not just be, uh, kinda stalled. And- and I agree that this bill, the way it's put out right now, I believe would stall because NASA does not have the funds to [laughs], um, you know, just have these quick sorties to do Apollo 2.0 with this hugely expensive rocket, without commercial involvement, without much commercial involvement, I should say, 'cause Boeing is the prime contractor for a lot of this. [laughs].
But I- I think that it's going in the wrong direction. And the excitement behind Artemis last year, the way it was proposed last year, the urgency of it, the- the new approach, the way that Jim Bridenstine, the NASA Administrator, has been [01:08:00] really advocating for it, I think that really got a lot of people excited, myself included. And this bill doesn't take it forward, it kinda stalls it. So let's hope that this bill changes and that the Senate can [laughs] work with the House and- and get a bill where we can continue to rally around the progress that we wanna see with Artemis and with NASA and the space sector as a whole.
Casey Dreier: That's actually really interesting take on this bill. Part of it could just be the- the fact that the- the value of public-private partnerships beyond just the experiment is that it's making NASA relevant to the current generation of people and the future generation will be controlling public funds and voting and constituencies and so forth, and makes it relevant to them. Beyond going back to these abstract, giant, kind of prime contractor driven projects. And I wonder if there's just an inherent value in that be, you know, that's one of the outcomes of those programs is making it, uh, a possibility for all types of new entrants [01:09:00] to come in to space beyond the ideal of getting people onto the moon.
Laura Forczyk: I think you're absolutely right there. And there's a lot of people within Congress, especially Democrats, who really advocate for education and- and making sure NASA's really promoting STEM education. And what better way to do that than to excite them with partnerships with SpaceX or partnerships with Blue Origin or partnerships with these emerging companies that are young and active and vibrant and are much more transparent in most cases than some of the traditional prime contractors are.
This isn't to- to hate on prime contractors. They do an excellent job with some of the things that they do, um, but it's not quite the same level of excitement when you're talking about companies that are many decades or even centuries old that, um, you know, doing the same thing over and over again based on what we've already seen and b- before millennials are even born. [laughs].
You know, doing those same kinds of, um, mentality, status quo kinds of contracting and kinds of mechanisms where if you [01:10:00] want to capture people's imagination, the younger generation's imagination, and here, I'm talking about generation Z as well, if you really wanna promote STEM education and get people involved in the space sector, you need to really up the excitement within NASA. And really, one of the best ways to do that is to get involved with- with private companies that are doing things right now.
Casey Dreier: Laura, where can we, uh, buy this book, if- if a listener's interested?
Laura Forczyk: Yeah, thank you so much. It's available, um, paperback and e-book on Amazon, or you could also buy it on Barnes & Noble, and you can go to my website, astralytical.com, and you can click on the link and you can buy an authographed copy.
Casey Dreier: All right. I will forego my daily avocado toast and, uh, purchase this, uh, book going forward myself [laughs].
Laura Forczyk: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: Uh, Laura Seward Forczyk, I wanna thank you for joining the show today. She's the founder of Astralytical, space analysis and consulting business, and also the author of the new book, Rise of the Space Age Millennials. Laura, thank you again.
Laura Forczyk: Thank you, Casey. And send me your address, I'll send you a copy [laughs].
Casey Dreier: Oh, okay. [laughs].
Mat Kaplan: [01:11:00] Chief Advocate for The Planetary Society, Casey Dreier, talking with his guest, Laura Forczyk, about, uh, the recent action in the House or by a subcommittee in the House, which, um, I... we will continue to follow here on the Space Policy Edition and of course, Casey, I know you will be following at, uh, at planetary.org and through all the other channels available to you.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, it's my job, Mat. [laughs].
Mat Kaplan: [laughs].
Casey Dreier: I better be following it pretty closely.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. It's gonna be fascinating to watch this unfold, uh, particularly in this, uh, election year of 2020. Casey, I- I think maybe that'll wrap it up for today other than to once again encourage those of you who are listening but not members of The Planetary Society, please take a look planetary.org/membership and consider joining us and back in the wonderful work that Casey and the rest of my colleagues do at the society, Casey, uh, have a terrific time at the Day of Action. I look forward to getting your report the next time we talk.
Casey Dreier: Absolutely, Mat. [01:12:00] And I'm just really looking forward to hanging out with other society members, talking space and really making a difference in advocating on Capitol Hill. It's gonna be quite the experience.
Mat Kaplan: Remind us one more time of how people who can't join you in D.C., I'm one of them, will be able to participate in the Day of Action online.
Casey Dreier: You can pledge to take action from home. We'll email you on the Day of Action itself, February 10th, so if it's still in the future when we're talking about this, go ahead to planetary.org/dayofaction and sign up there.
Mat Kaplan: Casey, thanks again. I look forward to talking to you first Friday in March of 2020. I'm sure we will have much more to talk about.
Casey Dreier: All right. See you then, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: Once again, that's the Chief Advocate of The Planetary Society, my colleague, Casey Dreier. I'm Mat Kaplan, the host for Planetary Radio. Hope you'll join us for, uh, this week, next week, every week's, uh, weekly edition of Planetary Radio and we hope that you'll, uh, keep checking in at planetary.org to see [01:13:00] what, uh, Casey and all of my colleagues are up to there on your behalf as a fan of space exploration and space science. Thanks very much for listening, everybody, and ad astra.