Planetary Radio Host and Producer, The Planetary Society
SpaceX's Crew Dragon safely carried 2 astronauts to the ISS, nearly a decade after NASA made a huge bet on commercial partnerships to solve a problem of access to the space station. Casey and Mat explore how NASA gained the political will to fundamentally re-imagine its relationship with the private sector. Will it spur a new market for sending humans into space? Chief of D.C. Operations Brendan Curry offers an update on Congress and the outlook for NASA's major programs in a period of unrest and uncertainty.
NASA / Joel Kowsky
Liftoff of Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Kennedy Space Center, Florida carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on 30 May 2020. The mission, known as Demo-2, is the first human spaceflight to the International Space Station from the U.S. since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
Mat Kaplan: Welcome to the fourth anniversary plus one show of Planetary Radio's Space Policy edition. I'm Mat Kaplan, the host of Planetary Radio, and the co-host of Space Policy edition with the Planetary Society's chief advocate in our senior space policy adviser Casey Dreier, who is also on the line. Welcome back, Casey.
Casey Dreier: Hey Mat, how are you doing?
Mat Kaplan: Strange times.
Casey Dreier: It's getting better.
Mat Kaplan: Which we will be talking about with our other colleague, particularly your colleague in space policy and advocacy at the society, Brendan Curry shortly. They are very odd times. Anybody who's heard as we speak the most recently episode of the weekly version of Planetary Radio knows that it opened with ... in a way that we've never done before, with a statement that I made and a period of silence. We are all of us at the Planetary Society dealing with ... I mean, we were already dealing with a pandemic and now of course, the unrest and the reactions to the injustice that we have witnessed in this country.
Mat Kaplan: Of course, there's plenty to go around, around the world, as all of our listeners know, it has really shaken the United States. And the Planetary Society is considering how to respond. As the days go by, we've taken a few actions there's much more to come. But it's something that is still a work in progress. I for one, I'm very glad to see our organization which of course is focused generally on other things.
Mat Kaplan: As I said during the regular show, outward and upward, we also focus on human needs. And one of those is, we think the human need to discover and explore, but you have to make room for people to be able to do that, and to be able to look up and wonder. And that's something that we have great concern about and we will be responding to in the coming days. I kind of went on there for a bit.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, man. Obviously, this has been a painful week, since we've been recording this to watch and of course, for people in this country. It's just reminds me more than ever when we talk about space, just to kind of play on your thoughts there that what happens in space, it depends on what is happening here on Earth. And it's an extension of ourselves. You can't separate them entirely. So while it was so inspiring, and exciting to watch the Dragon Crew launch. Seeing it in context of this horrific, unjust consequence of these deep divisions and deep stains and original sin of this country, it should tell us something.
Casey Dreier: And as you said, I was very proud to see the society release, I thought a very good statement an initial start, as you said. And at minimum, I think this is a moment where everyone can take some opportunity for self reflection, and thought about how each of us can make improvements and address these systemic issues, particularly in this country. And try to do what we can individually and in our larger organizations to improve the situation for people. I don't know if that's a good-
Mat Kaplan: I think that was lovely. I think that was perfect. And of course, you're referring to the statement that was made by our CEO, the science guy, which you know, we'll put a link up on this page to where you can find that statement. I can tell you that all of us, you, my other colleagues, our other colleagues at the society, we all feel very strongly about this. And I think we're all pleased to see the direction that we're going in. But as I said on the weekly show, you folks out there, you need to help hold us to this commitment, as you need to hold other people to theirs.
Mat Kaplan: I said during the weekly show, and I'm not the first to point this out that our mission begins with the words empowering the world's citizens. It goes on to say to advance space science and exploration, but it's that empowering human beings, men and women, many of whom lack power in their lives, agency over their lives, that we're focusing on here. Because we need to empower them in that way, if we're going to do as I said, look up and wonder.
Casey Dreier: Of course, there's so many comparisons now to 1968 in the United States. It's a very hard year, particularly of racial injustice and civil unrest in rioting and protests throughout the country, in the context of the kind of the crescendo of the Apollo program. It was these weird echoes of that. It doesn't mean Apollo is not ... Commercial Crew is not Apollo in terms of that, but that it's a very visible and contrasting image to compare.
Mat Kaplan: Absolutely.
Casey Dreier: And it does run the risk. And I think this is what it's important to remember in the post Apollo era, and during Apollo, actually, while it was happening, NASA lost its role in that kind of societal agreement about its importance or it seemed superfluous or irrelevant. Because there was so much happening at home that seems so and was so important.
Casey Dreier: NASA needs to be able to do what it needs to do, but at the same time, it is hard to see those contrasting images. And you see the kind of horrible racial injustice against black Americans. And then look up and you see a launch to the space station and say, "What does that say about our society?" It's a long and complex answer that I am not capable of addressing, I don't think fully, but I think it says something about how we're in this big complex society, and we have to find ways to integrate and as you were saying, like, empower everybody. And particularly those in this country who have been systematically oppressed over the years, to have this future and to have the optimism to look forward.
Casey Dreier: And so again, I think at minimum self selection and humility and saying, what can we do better to bring more people into this future.
Mat Kaplan: You're a hero.
Casey Dreier: And to make sure that there's a place for everybody. And that really goes back again, we talked about the original sin of this country is same kind of, in a sense, the original sin with NASA and its astronaut corps, having its own systemic racism, of keeping out ... and sexism. Not only was that just morally wrong, it ultimately was practically for the organization. It made it so people who were not white men could not see themselves as part of the future of space for a long, long time. It ultimately damages any organization when the full breadth of its population and particularly the public organization cannot see themselves as participating in its activities.
Casey Dreier: NASA has obviously gotten a lot better over the years but there's still of course, lots of work to do. So we're probably going on about this, I don't know what more to ... You could hear us maybe processing this in real time.
Mat Kaplan: It is.
Casey Dreier: And I think that's important to acknowledge that we're all processing this in real time and struggling with it. But trying to do and being open to it. I think, again, our statement from Bill Nye, who speaks for the organization, I thought was really well written and as you said, Mat, a start. And I think that's the most we can say for now.
Mat Kaplan: You're right, just a start and you're right, in that we are processing this. Stay tuned everybody is we used to say in the golden days of radio, this is a nation of extremes. Let's go to the other extreme that everybody I'm sure is expecting us to talk about this month. And that is the wonderfully rewarding success just days ago as we speak of SpaceX and NASA in getting that Crew Dragon and Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley up to the International Space Station and what a start that was. Historic Casey, and just thrilling to watch. I hope for people around the world, and you were watching, weren't you?
Casey Dreier: Oh, yes, yes, I was watching.
Mat Kaplan: Wouldn't miss it.
Casey Dreier: I put it in my calendar just in case. I watched both attempts. Obviously it was happy they launched on the second attempt. And I got up very early on Sunday morning, my time to watch the docking of course as well and basically watched ... I probably watched more NASA TV that morning than I have in total leading up to this. I'd say, Mat, you and I will talk a lot about the policy consequences and kind of what this means and I think that's an opportunity to really reflect in this program. But we also have our colleague, Brendan, here who we wanted to talk about just a quick update. I've been getting messages and calls from society members and supporters kind of asking about in the context of everything that's happening, space is still happening. Space, still an issue, there's still policy and politics to happen. And they wanted to know what was going on in terms of Congress and what NASA is facing more broadly after seeing this launch.
Casey Dreier: And so we thought it'd be a good idea to bring Brendan Curry, who's our chief of DC operations. He's our person on the ground there every day, onto the show to kind of give you all an update about the updates on DC and what we can expect coming forward in terms of our major policy issues from the organizational perspective of the Planetary Society.
Mat Kaplan: And we recorded this conversation with Brendan just before this conversation, that Casey and I are having. So we'll go to that now. And I think it'll become apparent Casey, among other things, that Brendan other than being just a tremendously valuable representative of the Planetary Society in DC, he has this terrific network that he's able to rely on as a past congressional staffer, you'll hear him mention that. I will just say before we get to Brendan, that those of you who are members of the Planetary Society, you should be very proud of the ongoing activity that Brendan and Casey and others including the boss, Bill Nye conduct in DC on your behalf, on our behalf I should say since I'm a member as well. And I'll make that little plug that if you are not a member of the Planetary Society, but you believe in what the organization is up to planetary.org/membership is the place to go. So now let's go to that conversation with Brendan Curry, Chief of DC operations for the society.
Casey Dreier: Well welcome Brendan. And before we really go into a discussion of Congress and kind of what we're facing here politically, I just want to ask, how are you doing? And how's your family doing in Virginia?
Brendan Curry: Okay, thank you very much. We're doing fine. Northern Virginia, due to its proximity in DC is still in a kind of what's called a phase one reopening. The rest of Virginia is now going to be in stage or phase two. But Northern Virginia is going to be held back, but I appreciate you asking, and hope you and Melissa are doing great.
Casey Dreier: Thanks. And we are fortunately. So Brendan, I really wanted to talk to you this month, and I've had some inquiries from members and other folks who follow the society with everything going on right now. It's kind of hard to just keep track of what we're supposed to be doing politically in terms of where we should have been in the sense if things have been normal, so to speak this year.
Casey Dreier: So give us a sense of how often nominal are we politically at the moment, and what are you looking forward to that's going to really be impacting Planetary Society interests.
Brendan Curry: Off nominal is being generous Casey. Right now normally ... I hate having to use that adjective lately, normally. Congress would be well underway in terms of marking up legislation that the Planetary Society would care about that is namely the NASA Authorization bill in the appropriations bill that funds NASA, and all of that has been paralyzed.
Brendan Curry: Additionally, there's something at the White House called the Office of Management and Budget, OMB. They like to hand pack if you will, all the various departments and agencies across the federal government, not just NASA, but everybody throughout the year. They're taking a decidedly light touch right now, with everything that's going on and letting the various departments and agencies address how they see best to deal with this virus issue.
Brendan Curry: The other thing about OMB is right now they would start notionally sketching out what they think would be the next fiscal year budget submission to Congress. They would be starting to kind of trying to get an idea of what it would look like. But because of the extension of the federal income tax filing deadline into mid July, the Treasury Department can't tell OMB how much money they have to essentially play with. So OMB is essentially not doing anything. It's a paralyzing situation.
Brendan Curry: If you're a senator and Congressman, you have your DC office staff and they work on legislation and policy. Well, there's not a lot of legislation and policy getting put out the door right now. You have your home state staff, they usually deal with constituent issues, making sure your aunt Sally's Social Security check arrives on time. What I'm finding is a lot of congressional staffers who are on the DC team aren't being repurposed to augment the home state staff. I've talked to two senate offices whose space staffers are now just focusing on repatriating constituents who had been stranded overseas, so there's not a lot of space stuff going on.
Brendan Curry: You'll see press releases cranked out about how legislation is being diligently worked upon and things like that. But when I talk to my staffer contacts, they'll essentially say there's a general feeling of uncertainty about everything. All of June for the House of Representatives has been wiped out, it's been called remote committee work, which means the members can be back in their home districts campaigning and do some sort of assemblance of work with their committees virtually, in some way, shape or form. We may see the House get back for votes in July. The Senate thinks they may possibly try to get an NASA Authorization Bill to the floor sometime in the summer. Any congressional hearings that are going on, not with government decisions makers but with the outside experts in academics pontificating about things. It's a situation that is certainly not ideal.
Casey Dreier: So I guess maybe the way to think of this is, we have two budgets that you kind of acknowledged or referenced here. One budget is the one that was proposed the FY21 budget from the White House back in February. That's Congress's job to work on now, and that's just disrupted. That's not really happening because they've focusing on the virus response, and they're not meeting in person. And then the other budget from OMB, the 22 budget that they should be planning to release next year, that planning has been disrupted as well. So it seems like in all areas, everything is just getting pushed back. And then you also mentioned obliquely referenced the fact that we have elections coming up, and that's going to complicate Maters too.
Casey Dreier: Do you see how we move forward with not just space, but appropriations, we have to have appropriations with the government shuts down. So how does appropriations happen this year?
Brendan Curry: There's something called a continuing resolution that Congress can implement, which means basically, the funding levels for discretionary spending, and that includes NASA is just given a reset. Whatever the previous year's funding level was, is automatically just implemented for a certain period of time. It's not unusual during an election year for Congress to kick out a continuing resolution and whoever the president is, will sign it into law. And it usually expires sometime after the election. Congress sees where the dust settles after the elections, then they kind of suss things out. What I've been hearing from my congressional contacts is that, at the very least, they'll be continuing resolution also known as a CR, lasting well into the holiday season, if not longer.
Brendan Curry: Programs that the Planetary Society cares about will be funded at their current level right now. The hot item when they come back in July and August, in usually the Congress takes August off, by the way, that they may be back in session in August, which is in the 20 something years I've been in Washington is I don't think I've ever seen before, some sort of an infrastructure bill.
Brendan Curry: Now, space projects aren't exactly shovel ready. But what I could see from a space perspective, there are a lot of NASA facilities that have test stands, launchpads, wind tunnels, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. that needs to be refurbished, updated, and things like that, and there may be an opportunity to have some infrastructure work done at the space facilities that handle the missions we care about.
Brendan Curry: I think you're going to see an effort for some sort of a bill. Also, for the cities that have been terribly impacted by the rioters. It's a lot of uncertainty right now. But that's kind of when I'm going around the horn, the feeling I'm getting.
Casey Dreier: People's interest in space is still there. And they're concerned for major projects and things that the society cares about and exploration, those are still there. How do we or how do listeners engage on these topics in a way that's constructive right now, and we've talked a little bit about how you don't want to be tone deaf and you have to acknowledge who you're talking to.
Casey Dreier: For the things that we care about Mars exploration, Neo surveillance mission, overall NASA funding and exploration, can we still engage on these at the moment? What's the best way forward from what you're hearing from staffers and other people on the hill?
Brendan Curry: They still care about it. The Dragon mission that went up over the weekend, we needed that as an industry, as a community, but I think we needed it as a nation. There is still an opportunity for us to reach out to our members of Congress and senators, engage with them and let them know that we're still here. Mat, and Casey and I are very lucky to work in a very forward looking futuristic, optimistic industry. And I think people are thirsting for that. You can have a light touch and just remind folks, the staffers I deal with are space fanatics, they love the Planetary Society. They're just being saddled with having to deal with ... instead of dealing with space legislation, they have constituents whose businesses are having problems.
Brendan Curry: There's a time and place for everything. When I talk to them, they want to talk about space, they're still excited about space, their bosses still care about space. You just got to modulate yourself in a manner that comes across not as tone deaf, this will pass, and we will keep going on.
Brendan Curry: I would just suggest that Planetary Society members who engage with their members of Congress, let them know that this still should be a priority for the United States of America. I was on a call with Major General John Shaw, who's out of Vandenberg space ... is going to be called space, right now is still Air Force space, out in California, and he was talking about how much planetary defense is important to him. Down at the Cape, they got two more Starlink launches coming up. They're excited about perseverance. And they got a Delta IV Heavy going up in August.
Brendan Curry: The Europeans are opening up Kuru, they got a Vega launch this month. They got an Ariane 5 going up in July. And they've got another Vega launch going off in August. Everyone's talking about US space command and space force. But there's two other things coming down the pike. There's something being developed called Space Operational Command, which is ... the acronym is SpOC.
Brendan Curry: And there's another one coming up called the Space Training and Readiness Command. They're calling it STAR command. Work on the SLS is opening up now. We as an industry are still going on, it's not easy, but we're going through this, we're going through this and we're still doing great things. And it's important for the nation. The immediacy of the challenges we got right now can't be ignored. But there is a longer time horizon, that we can still as an industry and as a community advocate for.
Casey Dreier: Something that you and I have talked about, which I thought was interesting, and I think valuable for listeners and people who do engage on this issue, to remember is that the congressional staff and the congressional members themselves, they're still people. And as you pointed out, they're under extraordinary stress in their jobs that they're serving in. Having that acknowledgement that you're connecting to people and being aware of them and just if you have previous connections to them, just even asking how they're doing. And just acknowledging that they're having busy times for them seems like a good way to me to have that light touch you were talking about.
Brendan Curry: Yeah, Casey, and thanks for reminding me that. Some of you may not know, I was congressional staffer on 911. And then I had the enjoyment of having anthrax sent to my place of work. At the time, I saw three types of people. I saw folks that were beaming insane, "I'm here, I'm here, I'm here. I can't be helpful. But I'm here." In my mind, I refer to them as the hand wavers.
Brendan Curry: And then you had the jerky lobbyists who are making all types of demands on me because, they needed to make payments on their second vacation home. And we're Cavalier and [blazeh 00:25:53] about everything. And then you had the folks that would reach out to me and asked me how my wife and I were doing and tell me everything that they were hearing at that moment, and try to give me actionable information to help me do my job better. And I would tell them everything I knew, so they could do their job a little bit better.
Brendan Curry: How I've been conducting myself and how the Planetary Society has been conducting itself, with decision makers on the hill and in the executive branch is to be not the hand waiver, not the jerk, but to be a trusted source of information, and someone they can count on. And Casey you and I've been working diligently on that throughout this entire crisis.
Casey Dreier: Well, Brendan, thank you again for keeping at it, and I know you're in a sense, we've talked about this word, the normal job that you have involves being in crowded places, shaking hands with people and spending time with them a lot so your day to day has changed significantly. It's been a strange time for you as well. So I hope you stay safe. And thank you for representing us still on the hill every day.
Mat Kaplan: Brendan, before you go. It's somewhat off topic, but because you spend so much time in DC and we know that that has been a hotspot in recent days, have you been witness to any of the unrest on the streets there?
Brendan Curry: No. Anne and I and the kids live in a place called Fairfax, Virginia. And we have not had anything like that. Not to get emotional, but when I see some of the violence and unrest in places that I normally would walk around when I go into town on business meetings, is killing me. It's killing me to see that ... walking by the White House, I took it for granted. And we would bring our kids into town to go to a museum or go to a nice restaurant or something like that. And that's all gone. It's all gone.
Mat Kaplan: You got to admire the protesters who have stood up to those who are committing violence against [crosstalk 00:28:17]
Brendan Curry: Concur.
Mat Kaplan: ... property in general against these businesses, and trying to keep the focus where most people believe it should be. We'll simply hope, along with virtually all of the nation and many around the world that the protests make their mark, without any more of this violence. Thank you, Brendan. Stay safe. And as Casey said, it's great to have you back on the show. And great to have the two of you and others at the society continuing to represent us in these very strange and difficult times.
Brendan Curry: Well, Mat and Casey It was great being with you guys. I wish we were doing this in person. Maybe someday we will. Thanks for all you do. And thanks to all the society members for supporting space exploration.
Mat Kaplan: Well said, Brendan, thank you. Casey I bet I speak for you I look forward to as well to doing this in person, whether it's there in the Capitol or out here at headquarters in Pasadena.
Mat Kaplan: And again, that was Brendan Curry, Chief of DCU of Washington operations for the Planetary Society. And he brings tremendous insight and really interesting viewpoint to these discussions. Casey, I'm glad you invited him to join us again.
Brendan Curry: Yeah, it was good to check in with Brendan. He's doing a lot of work every day on behalf of society members. And I'm glad he's the one doing it. He's a natural at it.
Mat Kaplan: All right, back to the good news. Where was this mission? They're a couple of guys who visited a station or visiting a station. They may be up there for as many as four months. We're now being told by NASA. So congratulations to Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley and to NASA and to SpaceX for pulling off something that has never happened before.
Casey Dreier: Mat, did you watch STS-1? Did you witness that?
Mat Kaplan: Not only did I watch the launch. I was a young reporter on the Dry Lake Bed at Edwards when they came in.
Casey Dreier: Really? I don't know that.
Mat Kaplan: Yes, with hundreds and thousands of other people.
Casey Dreier: Wow.
Mat Kaplan: And I have this great photo hanging in my office of Enterprise remember Enterprise the sort of test tube-
Casey Dreier: I do.
Mat Kaplan: ... shuttle? Throngs of the public walking around Enterprise sitting on the tarmac at what's now Armstrong Base in the desert. It means a lot to me because you have this spacecraft and just regular folks, regular Americans strolling around it. And yeah, it was one of the great experiences of my life.
Casey Dreier: So how did this compare? Because this was the first time since STS-1 that we saw humans ride on a new spacecraft going into space. So that was almost 40 years ago. So what was that like those two moments for you watching the launch of both STS-1 and Crew Dragon?
Mat Kaplan: Surprisingly similar. I even surprised myself by the level of excitement that I felt as we went through the countdown and the disappointment of course on the first attempt, damn Florida weather. It was just thrilling and it happened that Saturday, my wife and I were away for the weekend. We were up in the mountains and I was worried about whether I'd get a signal. Thank goodness, I was able to participate watching on my iPad with a few dropouts here and there.
Mat Kaplan: Because it was, as I said, it was absolutely thrilling to see this happening. I was more excited than I expected I would.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, I love robotic space exploration, probably more than the vast majority of people. But man, it is a different experience when you know there are two human beings sitting on top of that rocket compared to a spacecraft.
Mat Kaplan: In a brand new spaceship.
Casey Dreier: In a brand new spaceship. It was the level of anxiety I had. And even though the Falcon has flown so many times now, Crew Dragon has flown successfully. There's something about that moment. And then that how that turns into this kind of triumphant feeling when it succeeds. At least here initially, they've gotten there. And I have to tell you Mat the video ... if you haven't watched the video of Bob and Doug in space before they dock, God, I hadn't seen anything ... I have never seen anything like that literally in my life happened live that there's astronauts in a capsule.
Mat Kaplan: And it's gorgeous.
Casey Dreier: It's gorgeous. Yeah. The quality of the video seeing them do flips in like a capsule. Growing up with a shuttle, you would get the kind of the shuttle stuff. But the interior of the Crew Dragon just looks completely different. It's free of all the stowage and handles and wires. It's very clean. It's obviously got the touchscreens but just seeing the two astronauts speak in a capsule, that was right out of the 60s experience of seeing astronauts on Apollo. It's right out of Apollo 13. And I kept thinking about, the movie.
Casey Dreier: And something about that broadcast from space of the astronauts in a new spaceship, oh, that almost sits with me in a ... hit me in a deeper level than watching the launch. And I don't necessarily know why that is, but that really stuck with me.
Mat Kaplan: We had Garrett Reisman. The astronaut who led much of the development of Crew Dragon at SpaceX. We talked about design elements and how he was won over. This was just a couple of weeks ago on the show, and that he now believes function comes first, but design is very important. They achieved it. It reminded me so much of the clean look that we saw in the movie 2001 in the spaceship discovery that's headed out to its destiny on Jupiter. It's so impressive that way. I got to tell you one other thing that didn't occur to me until a minute ago. Do you remember where you were during the seven minutes of terror as Curiosity descended Mars?
Casey Dreier: I do.
Mat Kaplan: And we could not[crosstalk 00:34:38].
Casey Dreier: You remember that too. You remember where I was too.
Mat Kaplan: I do because we were standing right next to each other. And it was that same excitement and anxiety and then joy when it was successful.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. You need that contrast in a way for both to feel so vivid. It was just an incredible moment. We shared it at the Planetary Society. My wife had a number of her students in an on a Zoom call all watching it at the same time. My parents were watching it, friends were watching it. It was this level of awareness that we tend not to get. It was just a triumph for that moment. I've been getting a lot of inquiries from press and others and kind of asking you about what this means and for Commercial Crew and for SpaceX.
Casey Dreier: So I thought that the rest of this episode we can really dive into just to remind people the history and really explore kind of the consequences of this, in a sense the good consequences, but also put this in context.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, that's what we are here for.
Casey Dreier: I think the big ... a lot of people who follow this close, listen to this show, of course, know that there's nuance here. But for the people that you're talking to, if you're just casually paying attention to the news, it's very easy to get this impression that Elon Musk just kind of came to NASA and said, "Hey, I'll launch your astronauts into space. Here's a rocket and a spacecraft. And here we go."
Mat Kaplan: Yes. And here's the check. Thank you very much.
Casey Dreier: And kind of save the day kind of thing. And it really wasn't that it was much more of a purposeful partnership initiated by NASA and not to denigrate in anyway, the capability that SpaceX brought to the table. But I think it's very important to go into the history of this.
Mat Kaplan: And Casey and I will explore that history and much more, including Space Force, the TV show, not the real space force in the second half of this month, Space Policy edition, stay with us.
Speaker 4: Where did we come from? Are we alone in the cosmos? These are the questions at the core of our existence, and the secrets of the universe are out there waiting to be discovered. But to find them, we have to go into space we have to explore. This endeavor unites us. Space Exploration truly brings out the best in us. Encouraging people from all walks of life, to work together to achieve a common goal, to know the cosmos and our place within.
Speaker 4: This is why the Planetary Society exists. Our mission is to give you the power to advance space science and exploration. With your support we sponsor innovative space technologies, inspire curious minds and advocate for our future in space. We are the Planetary Society. Join us.
Casey Dreier: You've been doing the show probably since the time where ... did you have an episode of the Planetary Radio about the end of the shuttle program or the announcement when the vision for space exploration was announced?u
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, we did. Both of those. The last shuttle launch, we actually did a live show with Bill Nye early morning when that craft took off. So yes, it's we've been around long enough to be able to cover this.
Casey Dreier: All of the vision for space exploration was, what? 2004. Where did this come from? Well, let's even go back further. While I'm thinking about this, the concept of commercial space didn't begin with SpaceX. Congress passed in 1984, the commercial space Act 1984 This really started to kick up with Reagan Administration and the shuttle, ironically, back when the shuttle was saying that they would be launching dozens of times of year, it would just lower ... Does this sound familiar? Lower the axis of cost-
Mat Kaplan: Oh, yeah.
Casey Dreier: [crosstalk 00:38:49] Earth orbit, create a marketplace in low Earth orbit, launch private space stations, there was a concept for private space stations. So there is a big push for privatization and commercialization in space as early as the early 1980s.
Casey Dreier: And with the shuttle being that the means to do it, the shuttle ... NASA even created up brochures to advertise "the delivery costs" of the shuttle, that fixed price delivery. And they had a slogan, NASA we deliver. And the idea of being that the astronauts would be delivering commercial satellites into orbit. That obviously didn't last.
Mat Kaplan: It was a wonderful dream.
Casey Dreier: Well, there was ... interesting at the time, because it's hard for in some ways government to ... because government is a product of public interest and public representation. The incentives built into public systems are different by definition than the incentives built into the private sector. So something like the Space Shuttle, which part of the reason that Nixon first approved it in the early 1970s was he was worried about the loss of aerospace jobs in California during his reelection of 1972.
Casey Dreier: That already tells you the motivations behind something for the space shuttle isn't to make the lowest cost vehicle that can deliver competitive cost of access to orbit, if there are deeper political issues behind it as well. So when NASA was trying to set the cost of what it would cost to launch commercial stuff into orbit, you had a bunch of pushback from other aerospace industry, people saying that you're going to undercut our own production here, because you don't need these to exist. The public sector wouldn't go out of business, the Space Shuttle wouldn't go out of business if it didn't get enough commercial business.
Casey Dreier: And so NASA was trying to select kind of an arbitrary number that was not reflective of the true cost of operation. So in effect, you had the government under bidding against private companies who said they wanted to deliver things into space. And so you had this whole battle, political battle in the early 1980s, about whether the shuttle is allowed to compete, in a sense, and what those prices would be. And then of course, that all ended with challenger. And suddenly the cost of lives was no longer a valid ... losing life to deliver commercial satellites orbit was no longer a valid risk. And so here we are now, come early 2000s, you had the loss of Columbia. That's when George W. Bush announced his visions for space exploration about constellation. And at the same time, the retirement of the Space Shuttle in the next five years or so.
Casey Dreier: And that was kind of the turning point to what got us going here. That these original ideas for the shuttle had changed so much. And the shuttle, which kind of soldiered on as this long term program that could have been probably still been going to this day, if you hadn't had Columbia happen. That they'd built the space station, but without the shuttle, you no longer had a way to deliver significant amounts of cargo to it.
Casey Dreier: Constellation was conceived under Mike Griffin, the NASA administrator at the time in 2004, 2005, period, and you had this problem of, Okay, we're building this new Ares 1 rocket that can carry a capsule, that could go to the space station. So that's our crew delivery, we're going to build the Ares V, this big, heavy lift launcher to send people to the moon. And then we'll build the Altair lunar lander and so forth. How are we going to get cargo to the space station?
Casey Dreier: And so it was under Mike Griffin around 2005 that they began to propose this idea of this cargo. What if we reevaluated this privatization model? And can we partner with other entities to find a lower cost way to deliver cargo to the space station? And it was a pretty modest program at first.
Casey Dreier: So Mat, like in that period for you is that ... how much was that on your radar when it was first beginning in the mid 2000s?
Mat Kaplan: I don't remember how much we were doing with this on Planetary Radio. We got started 2002. We focus pretty heavily on no surprise, planetary science and robotic exploration, but we did cover some of this. But we weren't talking a whole lot about policy and politics back in those days. So I think we missed out on quite a bit of it. But I was following it personally because I have always been such a fan.
Casey Dreier: Well, that's not unusual either, because the point of the program for commercial cargo when it began was actually so small, relatively speaking in terms of NASA expenditures, it kind of flew under the radar for a lot of people. It began with a total I think, expected expenditure of around $500 million, which for government terms is pretty modest. And because of that, everything was ... you had your classic, large existing aerospace contractors, they were all going after constellation programs which are spending many, many times that total amount every year.
Casey Dreier: You kind of had this opportunity for experimentation at the commercial cargo plan that wasn't really taken seriously by either political institutions or by the kind of established aerospace companies themselves. And that was almost kind of a key enabling factor of this because it allowed NASA to do two things. It allowed NASA to first find and open up the opportunity space to new companies to participate. So including SpaceX is where this enters the picture to get some NASA funding. And it also allowed NASA to take politically otherwise difficult problems like ending contracts with companies that weren't performing.
Casey Dreier: And so as the commercial cargo program was moving forward in the mid 2000s, NASA approached it with the idea of changing these incentives we were talking about, can you create an incentive structure where companies are incentivized to be efficient, where they're incentivized to save money themselves. And then by definition on behalf of the taxpayer, and are incentivized to innovate. And the classic model, of course, government contracting is cost plus, where if you want to make a moon lander, and you've never made one before, and you don't want to put every company out of business trying to make one on a fixed cost, because you have no idea how much it costs to make a moon lander, you do cost plus. Because you're asking a lot of these private industries back in the 1960s, or spaceflight and in the 70s, with the space shuttle.
Casey Dreier: But now with commercial cargo, they're saying, okay, getting to orbit, that's a "known problem" that it's not a huge unknown, it's difficult, but it's not an unknown set of difficulties. Therefore, the government can give you some money, a fixed amount. And NASA required that these other companies put in 50, 50 their own private investment into this effort to build commercial cargo supply surfaces.
Casey Dreier: One of the most important things that happened in that period was Rocketplane Kistler was one of these early companies participating in the cargo program, they did not make their investment requirements that NASA has mandated. And NASA cut them out of the program. And they stood by that decision, even when they tried to challenge it. That kind of meant business. That added a layer of reality and a layer of seriousness to this program where it's like if you ... NASA is serious, if you are not making your milestones NASA will stop paying you. That reinforced that incentive structure to say, we make milestones you get the money if you don't, you don't.
Casey Dreier: And that was, I think, an incredibly important moment in the early 2000s. And so of course, from that program, the commercial cargo, SpaceX got about $400 million from NASA, they matched the other part to build the Falcon 9 and of course did the original cargo dragon, which they built with a forward thinking mind. And then of course at Orbital Sciences now, Northrop Grumman developed the Antares rocket, which they still use to supply the station. And so that was very successful.
Mat Kaplan: The Cyngnus capsule with that.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, yeah. We jump forward a little bit here. Obama comes to the White House and they're evaluating the NASA portfolio. And they're seeing that constellation is over budget and far behind schedule. They are seeing this a problem again, it's like, okay, we still haven't proved cargo, but it's looking good, they were starting to do test launches, but they hadn't actually delivered cargo to the space station yet. They were seeing constellation running behind budget, they were ... wanted to shake things up. This is where they double down on this idea of like, what if we solve this, if we have to cancel constellation, how do we get people to the space station? Obviously, they're going to rely on the Russians for some period of time after the shuttle retires. But the shuttle was very expensive to operate. So they couldn't just indefinitely run the shuttle. That was an option back then.
Casey Dreier: So I looked it up, the shuttle was approximately three and a half billion dollars a year, three and a half to 4 billion a year. That was the overall cost of the shuttle program by the last five years on average of this program. And that got you about four flights a year. Of course, you can carry a ton of cargo, you can carry seven people, up and down very capable. But that's just a huge chunk of NASA's budget at the time, that was in addition to the space station itself, you just didn't have a lot of wiggle room.
Casey Dreier: I think we'd kind of established over the previous 30 years of the shuttle program that the cost of the shuttle was kind of precluded any significant investment in developing a replacement capability. Politically, they just couldn't muster the money. And so having the shuttle end was a prerequisite. And I think not just for freeing up the money, but actually for creating the political space to seriously invest in a replacement because as we talked about, going way back to the beginning, the shuttle was meant to address political needs of investing in various parts of the country.
Casey Dreier: So, California, obviously, Texas and Kennedy Space Center in Florida and various other areas that supplied shuttle parts, you would have very comfortable, very stable, politically stable program for those 30 years of keeping jobs in those areas. There's not a lot of political incentive. It's not just the money, but it's to say, well, let's start investing in a way to completely up end this comfortable political situation. So the shuttle in a way had this end in order to create the political space, I think, for commercial or any sort of cargo or crew replacement.
Mat Kaplan: With the end of constellation which was enormously controversial, like the ending the shuttle program. Lori Garver on Planetary Radio was talking about the heat that they took. And yet, she said that people were saying one thing about the success or the progress they were making with constellation, but it just wasn't happening. Basically, they were lying. And it was just a money sink. And they had to put a stop to it.
Mat Kaplan: Looking back now, it looks like these were the right decisions about constellation and the shuttle.
Casey Dreier: Fundamentally, the shuttle was not really safe to fly. I think that was the ultimate outcome of the Columbia disaster. You flew the shuttle 135 times you had two catastrophes. So that's a one in 65 chance of a mission fail, of catastrophic failure. That's not a very safe vehicle. There is just fundamental design flaws. And people realize ... I think, didn't realize that until later on in the life of the shuttle. That's the case that they were dealing with.
Casey Dreier: And so yeah, you had to replace that, constellation was way behind scheduled. And it wasn't just Lori Garver's opinion. They had GAO analysis. You can read these from 2009. There is significant problems with that program. You had a new administration and they said, "Why don't we try something new?" And so they looked around and they saw cargo, this cargo program, which, for less than a billion dollars had basically it was about to provide two new launch vehicles and cargo supply ships to NASA. And less than billion dollars of NASA expenditure, which is like, unheard of.
Mat Kaplan: Quite a bargain. Yeah.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. So they said, "What if we extend this to crew?" Now, there is a huge as you said, there's this huge battle because this was just the worst in a sense, the worst possible timing. You had the simultaneous end of the Constellation program, with the end of the Space Shuttle Program, in the midst of a once in a century, at the time was considered a once in a century recession. And so you were having huge amounts of job losses in these key areas, Florida, Texas, California, Alabama, and so forth. And the political representatives in those places reasonably saying we can't support this, we need to address this situation. But the answer of Commercial Crew in a sense of like, because it's commercial and more efficient, by definition, it just employs fewer people. And the people are going to be in different places. That's one of the strange incentives of just again, public incentives versus purely private incentives.
Casey Dreier: However, the deal, they made a deal. And this is what is kind of interesting here. The deal was they just kind of do both. And this is where you had the birth of the SLS, the continuation of Orion. And if you look at the law that created the SLS, it says you have to use the same providers of the shuttle and constellation in terms of contract. Same workforces. It's literally written into the law. Fine.
Mat Kaplan: All 50 states I think, right?
Casey Dreier: Well, yeah. And to be fair, Commercial Crew uses supplies in all 50 states just at a smaller scale. But the interesting thing I think, is that ... then it's like okay and fine, you can do your Commercial Crew thing too. But there was a lot of resistance from that and folks have ... Eric Burger is writing about this a lot of Ars Technica and others have well documented this very skeptical, generally bipartisan kind of parochial interests. So people from the classic aerospace places.
Mat Kaplan: Last week I found on YouTube, I was watching the congressional hearing at which Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan were talking about how much they hated this new plan. Talk about going up against true heroes. It was pretty courageous ... they put it out there.
Casey Dreier: And I think it's important. I mean, we're looking back now with the 2020 vision of history behind us. It was not unreasonable to be skeptical of saying we're going to turn access to low Earth orbit with people and astronauts over to a private company. It was not unreasonable to be skeptical of that idea in 2010. That was before the first cargo supply. Successful cargo resupply did this station by SpaceX. So SpaceX had yet to prove itself at this point. This has never been done before. And I'd say, the memory of Columbia was still very fresh in the minds of many people at NASA. Can NASA retain safety by stepping back from a regulatory perspective? By trying these new companies who have never done this before?
Casey Dreier: By putting our reliance in this, it was a gamble. It was a policy gamble. It's not unreasonable to be against it at the time. I think that was a very rational response. And this is why in a sense the solution was well let's do both. That old line from the contact ... first rule of government spending, why build one when you can build two at twice the price? So why not do both?
Casey Dreier: And they did, and so you had the SLS kicking up billion in more dollars per year, Orion more than a billion dollars a year. And the original plan for Commercial Crew as proposed by NASA, Lori Garver and Charlie Bolden and the Obama administration in 2010, was to do it in five years and spend about six and a half billion dollars. Congress immediately began to underfund the Commercial Crew.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, Lori talked about this as well. And we didn't say, former Deputy Administrator of NASA under Charlie Bolden. She said, ask for a billion they give you half. And so if anybody's wondering why it took so long, that's what she points to.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, I ran the numbers. So the launch of Crew Dragon, I recommend everyone, check out this blog post. We'll link to it on the show. But it was a lot of fun putting these numbers together, the list of what NASA requested and then what Congress provided. And for the first, basically four years, the program Congress purpose ... Well, yeah, purposely underfunded the request for Commercial Crew, kind of showing their general attitude towards the idea. That kind of grudgingly gave some money.
Casey Dreier: And it wasn't until 2016 that Congress finally gave what NASA asked for. And then by 2018, they no longer even kind of specified it, which means it was basically completely agreed to like it was no longer controversial. So it took a long time and it basically took ... You SpaceX proved itself with cargo. And another I think critical event is that as NASA was able to start spending money, they were able to start a similar competition process for selecting at minimum two providers to launch crew into space and ultimately became SpaceX, of course, and Boeing.
Casey Dreier: And I think once Boeing was in the final selection, a certain number of members of Congress saw the word Boeing and realized that this is serious and they trusted the name Boeing, more than SpaceX and it became less of an issue. By the time a major aerospace contractor was also included in this. And those awards again, were made in 2014.
Mat Kaplan: And I'm going to guess that Boeing, at least in 2014 still have a much more sophisticated and large lobbying force in Washington DC than SpaceX had.
Casey Dreier: Yes, Boeing is one of the largest in terms of expenditures, you can look this up on actual lobbying. Boeing is the largest, with about 16 million a year, which is really minor, compared to the 10s of billions of contracts, they went for that. SpaceX has actually really increased its lobbying over the years. They're up to like, I think a million and a half, maybe two million. and I remind you those are formal lobbying. So that's probably maybe a multiple of two beyond both of those numbers at least for more of-
Mat Kaplan: Interesting
Casey Dreier: ... the informal lobbying expenditures. It pays off. There's actual interesting political science debates about why don't more people spend money in lobbying because it seems to work credibly well. It's a really high ROI, but a plug in there for Planetary Society advocacy work. It's one of the best things that companies can invest in.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, I think that was a really critical turning point. And the contracts that NASA provided to SpaceX and Boeing were also kind of interesting as in and of themselves. So this was ... they're called CCT, Commercial Crew Transportation capability contract. They had given some earlier study money to both companies and Sierra Nevada, which is looking at a kind of a mini shuttle program that ultimately wasn't funded.
Mat Kaplan: But they're still moving forward for cargo, the Dream Chaser.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, that actually came through as cargo, which is interesting and shows you where they kind of imagined hope to take that in the future to bring it back in the crew program.
Mat Kaplan: Cargo with wings and windshield.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. What a coincidence. Yes. What else can we do with it? The big awards, the big contracts to Boeing and SpaceX are $4.2 billion to Boeing and 2.6 billion to SpaceX. And what those contracts covered is development, testing and evaluation of the capability and up to six flights each with four people per spacecraft, so those numbers the 4.2 and the 2.6, this is a common misconception. Those are the total potential value, potential value of the contracts. Of those top line numbers, NASA doles out that money based on milestones that's achieved by both companies.
Casey Dreier: So if they don't make the milestones and they can't deliver, NASA does not owe them the rest of the money, they only pay on performance. And that's that commercial cargo model. That's that milestone based fixed price understanding. And this is what again, it really comes down to for me. The model itself is predicated on the idea that the problem itself is no longer an unknown difficulty for companies to step into. And again, why did we have cost plus contracting? It's because companies had no idea what financial risks they were running to try it to build something brand new that had never been done before. That makes sense. The government doesn't want to put these companies out of business. They would never go anyone to bid to work with if that was the case.
Casey Dreier: But for low Earth orbit, the idea was if you'd want to send people into orbit, it's hard. But it's not an unknown level of difficulty hard. And you should be able to get private investment to augment the funds that the public trust is going to give you. Public Treasury is going to give you, and you can be incentivized then because you're getting a fixed amount of money, and NASA steps back from a regulatory perspective. And at the end of the day, you own that intellectual property.
Casey Dreier: So you can find revenues in the future to offset your investment now, in addition to what NASA is going to give you. And that's that critical difference. SpaceX entered into cargo, NASA helped them pay to build the Falcon 9. And then SpaceX went out and fundamentally shook up the entire global launch industry with the Falcon 9, its reusability and undercutting the prices of all these other nations and earth Space companies. And SpaceX now makes money launching commercial satellites, there was a market to break into. And NASA helped them break into that market with that initial investment.
Mat Kaplan: Kind of like the federal government funding the earlier lines with with airmail, I know that's almost a cliche, how often it's been making, but it did get us to where we are today.
Casey Dreier: Right. And that's the partnership model. That's why it's public policy, to not just provide a service to the government, but to try to create a marketplace that then industry can occupy on its own. The difference though, of course, is that there is no obvious marketplace waiting for SpaceX once it has the capability to send humans into space. There's a handful of companies that will pay you to launch their private communication satellites that is fully private space exploration, is not real exploration. It's like launching comsats over rapidly developing population areas of the world to provide cable TV, that's private space. They have the money to pay 80 to $100 million to launch those $500 million satellites up there to serve that need.
Casey Dreier: We don't have that waiting now for human spaceflight. This is what's going to be a really interesting outcome. When now we've kind of put the cart ahead of the horse a bit, and said NASA and the US government is helping to build the capability for a marketplace that does not exist. It's the Field of Dreams approach. It's like if we build it will be[crosstalk 01:02:32]. And so that's the big, big difference here. And that brings into a larger discussion of when people talk about this, what lessons can we draw from Commercial Crew and commercial cargo? We don't know the lessons from Commercial Crew yet. It's just beginning. I think that we're still in that evaluation period. So we've had the successful launch. And they've had the successful docking, it went incredibly smoothly by the way, just stunning how well, SpaceX pulled this off.
Casey Dreier: The astronauts have to come home first. But then I think really critically, you have to demonstrate reliability and safety. And that takes more than one successful mission that takes many missions over time. We need to show that Boeing the other company in this Commercial Crew Program, can also deliver on this promise and provide independent secondary access and maintain pressure on SpaceX for competition. And then we need to see is there an actual market? Does that part of the predicate hold up in practice? Does sending people into space makes sense beyond NASA being the only customer? I'd say we have no idea on that one yet.
Mat Kaplan: It's a fascinating position that we're in as exciting as all of this has been that we still have so much more to learn. They call it Demo Mission-2 for a reason, it is still a demonstration. The first real commercial mission is ahead. But I don't know. I'm hopeful and at least there are still a handful of billionaires out there who are willing to pay SpaceX or somebody[inaudible 01:04:10].
Casey Dreier: Well, that that's the interesting thing to me too when you look at this more broadly. First of all, how lucky is NASA that SpaceX exists, in a sense? SpaceX is a very unique company ... Here's the comparison look at commercial cargo. What is Northrop Grumman doing with the Antares rocket and Cyngnus? They're doing nothing but serving NASA. They haven't gone out and shook up the launch industry with the Antares. They haven't gone out and tried to secure commercial contracts for Cyngnus. They're just going to serve NASA. In a sense, it's served NASA's needs. It's a decent price to launch stuff to the space station, they got an independent access. But in the broader policy sense it was a failure of creating a more broader based industry and competitive industry in the United States.
Casey Dreier: In a sense, we're kind of lucky that SpaceX happens to be led by someone who has this intense long term dream that he's putting into SpaceX that is aligning with NASA's needs, but that SpaceX is willing to basically kind of do all of this extra work on its own because it has its own ambitions. And I think that we're seeing a similar thing for Boeing with the Starliner. What are Boeing's plans for Starliner beyond serving NASA's needs, compared to with SpaceX, who's already trying to sign up people to fly to orbit to access the space station? We're lucky that we had a company who is willing to embrace the more not outlandish, but kind of maybe far sighted perspective on this. But it's not a guarantee. It could have easily been.
Casey Dreier: Elon Musk likes to ride things right on the edge of failure, that's what makes him in a sense, so successful. He's very risk-talking. If SpaceX had gone out of business or the Falcon one had exploded the fourth time. And we just had some other company, it's a very good possibility that nothing in the broader launch industry would have changed beyond the fact that you'd have two additional companies now serving NASA as kind of the pseudo contractors that were on a slightly different cost structure. The reason that SpaceX pursued reusability so much is because they want to go to Mars, and they need to have all these fundamental shifts in the cost of spaceflight.
Casey Dreier: It's interesting to me that we're in the situation where we really are dependent on SpaceX and let's say you obliquely referenced this people like Jeff Bezos, who are independently wealthy, unable to fund their own things, but based on their own long term visions for space.
Casey Dreier: It's somewhat of a tenuous position for NASA to be in. But also, NASA just got very fortunate in this sense. So I think that's worth considering too. And so we're starting to see NASA say, "Where can we apply these lessons now?" The amount of money that NASA spent a Commercial Crew in total, about $7 billion, when you adjust for inflation, and that's for everything paid out to develop. So that doesn't include all the future costs of delivery for Commercial Crew to the space station. That's the Boeing of SpaceX, that's the Sierra Nevada. That's all the stuff that they initially kind of paid at the beginning.
Casey Dreier: That's a great deal. In a sense it saved NASA money, it saved NASA a ton of money. And it's ... if you look back to both the Starliner and Crew Dragon costs for those capsules, to develop those and you compare those historically, those are the cheapest capsules, in a sense to develop since NASA worked on the Mercury program. That's, I think, kind of stunning.
Mat Kaplan: Definitely,
Casey Dreier: By magnitude, order of magnitude.
Mat Kaplan: I'm so glad you brought up Blue Origin, because as we look to the future, that company, along with SpaceX and Dianetics have just been asked by NASA, hired by NASA to develop lunar landers. There are not all going to be making it to the moon, they're not least not going to be funded by NASA to do that, whether they continue on their own. Where are we now with this new approach to getting stuff into space and perhaps to other destinations, then the International Space Station?
Casey Dreier: I think that's the big question we're about to see experiments run now. It's exciting. And I think these experiments are worth running. But we should be really clear that these are experiments. Now we don't know how these are going to turn out. So we're seeing as you said, human landers. And then also, of course, there's clips the commercial lunar payload delivery, so basically doing a cargo equivalent of delivering things to the surface of the moon, with a I think at least three or half a dozen companies kind of getting various levels of contracting fixed price contracts. Now, and three big groups getting money, including SpaceX for the human lander contracts, you're seeing fixed price contracts for the Gateway, the orbiting space station for elements of that with Maxar.
Casey Dreier: The question is though again to me fundamentally is what domains does this fixed price contracting work? And again it comes down to this idea of is landing on the moon a known difficulty problem or still an unknown level of difficulty problem?
Mat Kaplan: Great question.
Casey Dreier: Are companies ... exactly right? There's no marketplace really for humans in low Earth orbit yet, maybe you could argue tourism maybe. But there's definitely no pre existing marketplace at the moon. The fundamental predicate that made commercial cargo and crew work just do not exist at the moon. So this is a really applying this method of public private partnerships, is applying this to a whole new domain of problem, a whole new level of difficulty. We don't know if that'll work and the lessons of Commercial Crew and cargo I think are very limited in informing us of the potential outcome here.
Casey Dreier: And it doesn't mean it won't work. It just means that it's a risk, and we should be super clear. NASA, is taking a policy gamble here again, and applying this very widely. For all the reasons I just mentioned that I don't know, it's very possible to me that there are areas of space exploration where this public private contracting process does not apply well for all these basic things.
Mat Kaplan: Fascinating. We live in interesting and exciting times. Casey, now for something completely different. You haven't seen Space Force yet, have you?
Casey Dreier: No. I've seen the previews.
Mat Kaplan: I've only seen the first episode, so I can't say much. I can tell you that our colleague, Brendan, before we started recording, he was telling me that he's out to episode three with his wife, and he's loving it. It's great fun and that actually a lot of the people who are being made fun of in that show are also enjoying Space Force with Steve Carell.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, it's interesting to see it leaking out into broader pop culture. I've seen the previews. And it's interesting that they kind of conflate the military side of space or the national security side of space with launching people. And going to the moon. And basically all the things that specifically they decided not to do in National Security Space, that we have a civilian space program for.
Mat Kaplan: Thank you, President Eisenhower.
Casey Dreier: Right. And I have a ... I don't want to be a buzzkill, I guess on the show, but those are the types of kind of lazy conflation that worries me in terms of long term support for NASA, is if people see it as the same as national security, or militarization so to speak of space. I don't like to see that I wish maybe they had done their homework a little more. But at the same time, a Space Force show about managing GPS satellites from ground stations is not super exciting. So I understand why they're playing with the fact that still.
Mat Kaplan: I have to make the comparison to a show that I think you have seen. I watched a couple of episodes and was deeply disappointed. Avenue 5, it looked like it was going to be great.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, I wanted it to be Veep in space. And it wasn't quite as good as I had hoped. I didn't expect that one to have a high level of reality, adherence to reality. It seemed a little more of a setting content contextual use but it could have been better. I'm sorry. Yeah, but I don't like that. Well, what's a good space show ... let's focus on the positive what's a good space show that you've seen recently, Mat?
Mat Kaplan: Well, funny. You should ask. I am running in order through every episode of Deep Space Nine, which I was not-
Casey Dreier: Oh, nice.
Mat Kaplan: ... a huge fan of when it was in first release. And I'm doing okay, I'm enjoying it very much I even kind of like Sisko, who I didn't care for that much. But now it's the beginning of the fourth season and Worf, Michael Dorn has come back, thank goodness what a great character. Things are heating up with the dominion. It's great fun and I think it is an example of not a comedy except for an episode here and there, like the baseball one and Holodeck against the Vulcans. But it's great fun. I hope we'll see more of that.
Casey Dreier: Deep Space Nine is also a show that grew on me. And it's actually probably my second favorite Star Trek now after Next Generation. But I'll toss one show out there which is I think an interesting in terms of overall content. It's a show about exploration. But what happens when exploration that the kind of the bad consequences side of when it doesn't turn out well. This is the show called The Terror. I think it was originally at AMC, it's on Hulu now.
Casey Dreier: And it follows the two ships that launched in the mid 19th century from Britain trying to find the Northwest Passage, and the two ships were Terror and the Erebus. So the Terror, and they get trapped in the ice and that in reality when they did this, this is based on a true story that the ships were never heard from again, they failed, the crew perished basically. The show is kind of this fictionalized account of that process. And I could not help but it's just a great show. Very good writing, very thoughtful, and not a happy show necessarily. But I think really insightful about what happens to civilization when stressed.
Casey Dreier: And it could not help but think about the first Mars colony going through a situation where suddenly their food is getting limited, survival is becoming very difficult, and what would happen to people in that concept. And we always like look back at exploration is this grand exciting endeavor. And there's also ... there's a pretty strong survivor bias. So if you've survived your exploration, you're the one writing your stories about it. But there is this side of exploration about failure, which is unpleasant and violent and horrible for those who went through that aspect of it.
Casey Dreier: So I think it's a good reminder that exploration is full of risk. And what can go wrong is something we should ethically grapple with when we're talking about putting people's lives on the line, but also just a very entertaining and thoughtful show.
Mat Kaplan: Well, thank you for that recommendation. And thank you for a truly wide-ranging edition of this show. It has been a fascinating conversation. Thank you, Casey, and thanks to Brendan as well for joining us and bringing his expertise to this.
Casey Dreier: Well, I was going to say ... and I think you're about to say it, thank you for four years of doing the show with me, man.
Mat Kaplan: We missed the anniversary celebration last time, my fault, because I thought it was this month but you bet. We are underway in the fifth year of the Space Policy edition of Planetary Radio. We hope that you'll be sticking with us throughout this year and perhaps beyond. And if you're not a member of the Planetary Society, and you want to be a part of this effort, not just Space Policy edition, but all of the great space policy work that is underway by the Planetary Society, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org/membership.
Mat Kaplan: And stay safe stay well. We will as we always have gotten through this together. Casey.
Casey Dreier: Mat, I couldn't say it better myself. Thank you, everybody, for listening to us for these years.
Mat Kaplan: We will see you in a month, the first Friday in the month of July 2020. In the meantime, of course, the weekly Planetary Radio will be coming your way every Wednesday morning, Pacific time we post that show and we hope you'll continue to visit planetary.org and or follow the Planetary Society on social media. Take care of everyone once again, and Ad Astra.