Planetary Radio • Jan 01, 2020

Planetary Society All-Stars Look Back at 2019 and Ahead to 2020

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Jason Davis

Senior Editor for The Planetary Society

Casey dreier tps mars

Casey Dreier

Chief of Space Policy for The Planetary Society

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Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society

Happy new year in space! Editorial Director Jason Davis, Chief Advocate Casey Dreier and Solar System Specialist Emily Lakdawalla join Mat Kaplan for a review of 2019’s biggest news from the final frontier. Our experts then turn to the promise of 2020 for Mars exploration, humans in space and much more. The theme continues as Planetary Society Chief Scientist Bruce Betts adds his highlights in a special What’s Up segment. Got a great joke that combines space and the new year? You might win this week’s contest!

Hellas Basin from Mars Express
Hellas Basin from Mars Express ESA's Mars Express captured this view of the Hellas Basin on Feb. 13, 2016. This image, made from a two-color (blue/green) observation of hazes in the atmosphere, captures a large dust storm swirling inside the basin. Clouds of dust kicked up by the wind have spilled into topographic lows within the basin rim, including several large channel systems on the eastern side of the basin. These channels (Dao, Niger, Harmakhis, and Reull Valles) can be seen as light fingers reaching out of the dust cloud at top center.Image: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin / Justin Cowart

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Where in the solar system is the crater Fejokoo?


The crater named Fejokoo is on Ceres, beltalowda!


Mat Kaplan: [00:00:00] Our All Stars review 2019, and predict a great new year in space this week on Planetary Radio.

Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society, with more of a human adventure across our solar system and beyond. Join me for a nice, long look back over the year just passed, and an exciting view of what's ahead on the Final Frontier. The Planetary Society's best and brightest will share their greatest hits and hopes.

Editorial Director, Jason Davis takes a break this week from The Downlink, but he has joined a panel that includes our Chief Advocate, Casey Dreier, and Emily Lakdawalla, with her new title of Solar System Specialist.

Stick around for what's up, and you'll hear Bruce Betts nominations for the best of 2019 and 2020. Bruce also offers a special challenge in this week's Space Trivia Contest.

I sat down with Jason, Casey, and Emily [00:01:00] back on December 21st so that I could catch all of them before anyone started a vacation. The only thing that has changed since then was the less than 100% successful first flight of Boeing's CST-100 Commercial Crew Vehicle. You may have heard on last week's show that a timer error kept it from a planned rendezvous with the International Space Station. But the mission, otherwise, went very well. Boeing announced on December 30 that the capsule returned to Earth in excellent shape.

With that, we're ready to welcome my colleagues. Hey, everybody, Happy Holidays, well, we're a little late for that, but Happy New Year, I mean, we're going to be looking forward at this year that has just begun, although first, we're going to take that look back at 2019. Uh, and, let me just say how happy I am [laughs] to get to, uh, have this opportunity to bring all four of us together and, uh, get, get us all in one session on Planetary Radio.

Jason Davis: Hey, good to talk to you all.

Emily Lakdawalla: It's always fun to get [00:02:00] together in virtual space since none of us actually work in the same building most of the time.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs] That's true. [laughs] It's the worldwide reach of the Planetary Society, that's what we represent.

Emily Lakdawalla: That's right.

Mat Kaplan: Casey, welcome to you as well, you're going to get us started. Where should we begin?

Casey Dreier: Of course, I'm going to represent the policy perspective here, and no discussion looking back on 2019 would be complete unless we acknowledged the complete wrench in NASA's plans that was thrown into it by the Vice President of the United States on March 26th.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Casey Dreier: When he surprised everyone, and, I think, surprised the NASA Administrator, by declaring that NASA should land humans on the moon by 2024 as opposed to, uh, late 2020s or early 2030s, basically creating a five-year mandate, and a, a very immediate ticking clock to accelerate NASA's human landing, uh, exploration efforts. So, that, I think, is probably the defining surprise, the policy surprise, I think [00:03:00] Marsha Smith, we talked about this on our Space Policy Edition called this a- a policy of surprise that has been running NASA's human spaceflight program for a while. Uh, this is only the latest in it, but it's certainly, uh, been motivating to NASA and we'll see if they can pull it off, though, uh, signs aren't looking great, let's say.

Emily Lakdawalla: Casey, is there actually anymore money for NASA to speed it up like this?

Casey Dreier: [laughs] Well, let's see. It depends what you mean by, "Is there," uh, the administration, as a consequence of this, actually did something relatively unprecedented. They had already released their budget proposal for NASA which included the run-out for the following five years, back in February, that included no money for landing on 2024 because they weren't doing it yet. So, after Vice President Pence's announcement, they went back and released a supplemental budget request to congress to help fund what is now called The Artemis Program.

Uh, I really can't find any other equivalent piece in NASA's history where this has happened. So, they [00:04:00] requested money, and for a while, everyone was thinking, "You know, maybe this could be pretty exciting, maybe they're going to ask for, I don't know, 20-30 billion dollars lump sum up front so they can have the money to spend it as they need it," you know, "How important, how critical is this to the administration?" And then it came out, the request, and it was a measly 1.6 billion dollars, and not very impressive.

The, the idea being they're going to request more money down the line, you didn't see that much of a press coming from the White House to congress that ultimately has to provide the money, and we're wrapping up our fiscal year 2020 budget now in congress, we're seeing the final legislation, they're coming up with [laughs] out of the one billion dollars requested to start work on a lunar lander, congress looks to give them about 600 million, not a strong start for a 2024 lunar landing deadline.

Mat Kaplan: Now, in spite of all this, hasn't NASA been doing other things that appear to be getting us ready for this, uh, human return to the moon? I mean, contracts going out, and, and, [00:05:00] or at least being discussed?

Casey Dreier: Yeah, NASA's in this weird kind of reformulating period that's, so much is actually quite consistent with the Obama era, that it's, kind of, just been re-labeled in a different way. So, the big new development under human spaceflight is the, the Gateway, basically an orbiting space station around the moon, renamed from the Deep Space Gateway or whatever they were calling it at the end of the Obama administration. Basically, the, they, they put out a contract to begin building that, Maxar is, is the company building the first step of that. Of course, you have your ongoing space launch system mega-rocket being built, uh, uh, continuing to be [laughs] let's say pushed back a few months here and there, so it's, it's in progress. And then, of course, your deep space capsule with Orion.

Orion and SLS date back almost 10 years at this point, Orion even older, and eventually, they're going to fly, you know, it will provide a capability to send humans, for the first time, beyond lower Earth orbits since the early 1970s. So, even though it's a [00:06:00] frustrating kind of period of waiting for all of these things to come online, the fundamental enabling infrastructure is being built, and, I would have to say, unlike the lunar lander, is very popular among congress, the SLS, and, and Orion. They are willing to put a lot of money behind these things.

So, in that sense, I think we have a lot of ongoing progress that you're seeing in both of those key hardware elements that are going to provide this enabling infrastructure.

Jason Davis: What do we think is going to happen here? Like realistically by 2024, will this have happened? I mean, I already bet all of my life savings on this that it was going to happen. So ...

Casey Dreier: [laughs] What do you have as your over under for the, uh, the lunar- [crosstalk 00:06:41]

Jason Davis: [laughs] You should complicate it first.

Casey Dreier: ... talk about that. Yeah. I'll put it this way. So five years is an extraordinarily tight timeframe. The last time NASA has ever developed a new human qualified, basically spacecraft, in less than five years was during the 1960s in [00:07:00] the peak of Apollo, you know, basically Gemini. And so not a great track record for hitting tight timelines like this. The fact that we saw a pretty modest request from the White House that threw this out on to NASA's lap and then followed up by an even weaker financial commitment from Congress. And again, this is from a Republican led Senate, right? The president's on party, and even in their version of the bill for NASA funding, they didn't give what they requested for the landing system. So I'd say low, [laughs] I'm sorry, Jason, you might have to break the news to your family. They're not going to be going to college.

Jason Davis: They are going to be eating beans from a can.

Casey Dreier: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. It's a, I wouldn't bet on 2024 at this point. We've seen this before. Occasionally in the past and we see this, even within congressional legislation, you can't just mandate that things be on time. You can't just wave away, you know, you can't just say, "NASA do this by 2024." And then will say, "Okay, where's the resource to do it?" It's [00:08:00] like, "Oh, you'll figure it out. You'll just do more with less."

And for any of you who remember the Simpsons, when Homer worked for Hank Scorpio and Homer became like this, uh, a manager for the first time at this nuclear reactor and he just walks in and he sees a bunch of people working at consoles and he goes like, "Hey, are you guys working hard?" And go, "Yes sir, Mr. Simpson." And he goes, "Can you guys just work a little harder?" They said, "Sure thing boss." And they all start typing faster.

Like, that doesn't actually work. And this is kind of where we are with NASA being told to by this administration to, "Hey guys, just land on the moon in five years. You'll figure it out, I'm sure."

Mat Kaplan: Let's stay on the moon for a bit. Emily, it's been a popular place for a robotic visits in 2019 not all of them successful though.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah, I'm afraid not. The first one was quite successful and that was the, the Chinese Chang'e 4 landing, which was a remarkable mission. I'm just, I continued to be in awe of what uh, China manages to pull off for the first time that, that something was ever attempted. In this case, it's a lunar far side landing, so they placed an orbiter [00:09:00] at a Lagrange employing, a place where the gravity of earth and the moon balance each other out. It makes it rather easy to kind of do some station keeping around a fairly fixed point in space. And the orbiter permitted them to uh, later make contact and do relay from the radio of the Lander that was on the far side of the moon and a place that we've never landed before. It's not clear to me how much great science we're going to get out of this mission. Um, the, the Rover's moving rather slowly.

It wasn't really equipped with the kind of instruments that scientists really want on the far side of the moon in the South Pole-Aitken basin to try to answer these longstanding questions about the lunar composition and how much the Apollo samples were influenced by just one of the impacts on the near side of the moon. But it was still a remarkable accomplishment and both Rover and Lander are still operating, uh, nearly a year after they landed. So that's been going very well. Uh, the next one was not quite so successful. That was, uh, Israel's Beresheet lander. Following that, India [00:10:00] tried to land as well with a Lander named Vikram. And both of those landers, uh, experienced the same thing. They had very smooth dissents. Everything seemed to be operating just fine until the very last seconds to a minute or so of the descent when it seems like the landers just were not, not able to safely come to a landing. The landers went out of control and they crashed.

India at least does have a new order in place at the moon. I haven't seen much in the way of results from that yet, but it's a little early and I hope to see some stuff at LPSC, the Lunar Planetary Science Conference in March.

Mat Kaplan: Well, in the astonishing human interest story, both of those last two were, you know, we were able to watch those in real time. To me it was just incredible, like how much more emotionally invested I felt for the scientists in Israel and in India watching, you know, things slowly start to turn bad. And then the realization that this is almost certainly not worked. It's amazing with the ability to stream those things live like that and the fact that they chose to do so. [00:11:00] It's just really been exciting and heartbreaking and reminds us that, you know, there are real people behind these missions with lots on the line.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah. I'm glad you brought that up because, uh, like you, I'm, I'm very happy that they chose to share that all with us and that the two countries, it was a little different. I mean, uh, with Israel, the, the landing nearly worked and then it failed. And the, the statements that were made to the public immediately after were, they immediately acknowledged the failure and they talked about what they wanted to do next, which isn't necessarily to try to land on the moon again. They demonstrated nearly all the technology they wanted to develop. They may be pushing onto some, a different challenge that would springboard off of the successes that they had on their way down to the failure upon the landing.

The Indian response was quite a bit different. They actually did not publicly acknowledge that it was a failure, even though it was fairly obvious from the telemetry that the spacecraft had span out of control right at the last moments. And they still were searching for signals from the spacecraft, which isn't an [00:12:00] irresponsible thing to do, but I think it would have been a little better to acknowledge upfront that yes, it really does seem like it's a, it was a failure and that what we're looking for is a crash site.

I'm not sure what that's going to mean for future attempts at either landing missions or the kind of openness that we're talking about here because India was very open and the fact that they then, uh, weren't so ready to face the failure, uh, might bode ill for, for what they might do in the future.

Mat Kaplan: Before we leave this Chang'e 4 specifically Emily, what happened with that report of gel or goo or something that they found that, did that become kind of a bust?

Emily Lakdawalla: That was almost certainly a mistranslation, probably it was, maybe it was glass, maybe it was ... It's hard to say what the story was really talking about, but you have to remember that most people outside of China are getting their news through Google translations of Chinese new sources. And so, um, I think that anything that sounds that surprising one should go find a native Chinese speaker and [00:13:00] try to figure [laughs]out exactly what was said in the original article.

Casey Dreier: It was actually aliens. I think we should do this for the record here, Mat [inaudible 00:13:07] listeners.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Emily Lakdawalla: Jason.

Casey Dreier: You heard it here first. [crosstalk 00:13:10]

Jason Davis: They weren't due until Chang'e 4 landed on them or blasted them with, it's uh, descent engine. I, there's one other thing.

Casey Dreier: I thought it was the proton molecule.

Jason Davis: It was the proton molecule.

Mat Kaplan: Oh God, we won't talk about the expanse here, okay. There is one other factor about Chang'e 4 though that I really feel compelled to bring up and that is this old dream of doing astronomy in this case, radio astronomy from the far side of the moon where you're blocked from earth. Something that, I know Arthur C. Clark was talking about in 1940 science fiction stories. And it's apparently they're either doing this or getting ready to do this from Chang'e 4.

Emily Lakdawalla: They absolutely are. You know, I'm not sure if I go to the kind of conferences where I would hear the results from radio astronomy on the far side of the moon. But I'm sure, uh, I'll be looking, finding the results from that in, uh, in the news in the future.

Mat Kaplan: Well, let's head a little [00:14:00] bit farther out, not to Phoebe where the proto molecule actually will be found some day, but to other asteroids and, uh, and some big successes out there. Jason.

Jason Davis: Yeah, this was kind of the year of asteroids. Um, we had two missions that, uh, thus far have been pretty successful. Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft visited asteroid Ryugu and ended up collecting two samples from the surface. It created one artificial crater in the process. Uh, kind of blew a little explosive plate into the surface and, uh, stirred up the regular there and grabbed the sample from that area. Uh, dropped another one of its little rovers that bounced around on the surface. Um, drop target marker with the Planetary Society's uh, membership etched on the inside. This was just a really fun mission to watch.

They've since left the asteroid and they're in route back to earth. They'll return with the samples next year. Boy, it was just really fun watching how Japan's mission was a little bit different than what you'd [00:15:00] see NASA run this. Um, and you can compare it to a OSIRIS-REx as well.

They were willing to try riskier things. Um, it wasn't clear if they were going to go in and get another sample, but um, they did it, uh, and they were able to touch down pretty much exactly where they thought they were going to. It'll be nice to see what they get back next year. Uh, OSIRIS-REx on the other hand from NASA has been very methodical and very slow to survey the asteroid really in depth. Um, it's an asteroid Bennu right now. They just chose the sample site for it. The primary sample site where they'll get the um, where they'll get the sample next August.

The big finding, and Emily can correct me if I'm wrong here, but it seems like both missions were equally surprised that the asteroids they visited were much rockier than they thought they were going to be, which is good for the science returns that are going to come from both of those.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah, it's really weird that they both turned out to be surprisingly different from expectations in the same way, like the two asteroids look so similar [00:16:00] to each other and yet so different from anything that we've explored before. There were parts of Itokawa the asteroid that the first Hayabusa investigated that looked this Rocky, but parts of it that didn't, the difference with Itokawa is that it was shaped kind of like a big cheese doodle.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Emily Lakdawalla: It's, it's like long and kind of skinny or peanut shaped. The Japanese of course being a little more, um, creative sea otter in Itokawa. But I think that Itokawa had these, these ponds of small, uh, very fine grained material and maybe that was related to the, the shape of Itokawa, whereas these much rounder objects of Ryugu and Bennu don't have places where that kind of material can pond except in a few scattered impact craters. And that's one of those is where, OSIRIS-REx is going to, is decided to sample in August next year.

Mat Kaplan: Uh, there's another object out there. It's just a visitor to our solar system, but it's a second one in not a very long period. Uh, that seems to be visiting from elsewhere in the [00:17:00] galaxy.

Casey Dreier: Yeah, we had that first interstellar astroid that made big headlines when it came through. Um, I think it was discovered in 2017, it was big news in 2018 and got the name Oumuamua. Was exhibiting some kind of weird behavior on its way out of the, uh, of our solar system where it seemed like maybe it was a little bit comet-esque, they couldn't quite settle on what exactly this thing was other than kind of a long cigar shaped object. So, you know, lots of science fiction ideas from that. I already mentioned alien once. Let's me- let's mention it again. Yeah, it was definitely aliens.

Uh, and then this year, uh, an interstellar comet, uh, is on its way through the solar system and that one's definitely a comet, has a discernible coma and tail around it. So we can probably expect to see more of these discovered, especially with some of the new telescopes that are coming online.

Jason Davis: And I was going to ask, is this a function of being able to look more effectively with more sensitive detectors that we're seeing to when's the last couple of years or, or is this really like the, [00:18:00] the rate or, or is this a, a weird anomaly that we're getting a weird clumping of, of, of visitors here?

Casey Dreier: I've thought of that myself and I don't know that anyone's definitively talked about that of why we're suddenly seeing so many more ... I suspect it's better detection and you know, I keep hearing that, uh, there's that telescope array that's going to come on very soon, uh, come online very soon. That's expected to pick up a lot more of these objects.

Emily Lakdawalla: LSST yeah.

Casey Dreier: LSST yeah, we'll, we'll, we'll keep finding more of these. The-

Jason Davis: I mean, I guess we have two data points. You could draw a line through them and extrapolate pretty much whatever you want.

Emily Lakdawalla: Oh, there's actually-

Casey Dreier: Yeah, exactly.

Emily Lakdawalla: There are actually a lot of these coming through the solar system and we will be finding more and more as these larger surveys come online. It's a wonderful byproduct of a lot of things happening at the same time, we've got big surveys that are happening in part because we want to survey for asteroids, but also because we've got much larger CCDs available, we have much better ability to, um, store and move large amounts of data around and to process it so that we can, [00:19:00] um, detect these things in an automated fashion. So, uh, this is just the beginning.

When you found two things in one year, you know that the next year it's going to be five, the following year it's just going to go up exponentially. And pretty soon we're going to have more and more of these. We'll be finding them every day. It'll be delightful.

Mat Kaplan: Jason, I'm reluctant to go back to your alien theme, but, uh, I hope we've determined that these two objects came from very different directions.

Jason Davis: Yes. That, that was one of the first thing that, uh, that was asked and confirmed that no, they come from completely different, uh, regions of our [crosstalk 00:19:32].

Mat Kaplan: Okay. So no rendezvous with Rama here to bring up Arthur C. Clark once again. Listen, these objects, we don't have to worry about them. The three, the uh, four that we've talked about so far, but there are all those thousands out there that we do have to worry about. And Casey, let's go to you for an update on planetary defense.

Casey Dreier: Well, some really important developments occurred in 2019 for the concept of planetary defense, right? Protecting the earth from these impactors of asteroids or comets. There are two things I just [00:20:00] want to mention. Probably the most important that I'll start with was the most recent, which is that NASA publicly committed to building a space-based telescope dedicated to finding near earth objects that are threatening to the earth. It used to be called NEOCam, is one of the concepts we've talked about a lot now it's called something else. NEO Surveillance Mission, NEOSM, it's in the works.

But basically the idea is that you know, NASA is committing to build a half a billion dollar space telescope just for this purpose. It's been probably two decades of trying to get this mission to happen. So this is something that the Planetary Society has worked really hard to support over the years. Our members have supported it. I mean basically any thinking person supports this mission, it's hard to really stand against it.

So this was a big step that NASA has been willing to embrace this because it's been difficult to build a mission like this because there's no natural home for it inside of NASA. And you know, up until very recently there wasn't a planetary defense mission line. In the past they had tried to cram it [00:21:00] into, into science, but it wasn't exactly a science mission though it can do science.

The other major development that happened this year was that NASA formally created kind of this new budget line item for planetary defense specifically to support ongoing missions, medium, small to medium sized missions in perpetuity to support not just detection like NEOCam, but deflection like the dark mission that's being made right now. In the last 10 years you can, you know, I did some of the budget analysis of this. It's grown by something like 4000%. Because we were effectively spending almost no money trying to find near earth objects that are, that are threatening to the earth. Now we're up to about $150 million a year. That's pretty solid level of annual funding for this and it's enough to, to, to kind of spread out over the years to build these smaller missions, to test deflection and detection technologies. In addition to supporting a bunch of ground-based observatories.

There was one person at NASA who was a halftime [00:22:00] on all of planetary defense issues 10 years ago. And now they have a team of people internally running this program. So it's a huge development and something that, again, now it has a permanent home, it can fight for its own values internally within NASA. It's an easy place to put funding towards. There's a lot of stuff that falls out of this bureaucratic change internally that will enable missions like NEOCam or NEOSM, DART and others to proceed going forward. So I feel much better about the future of planetary defense because NASA has now formally adopted into it's kind of self identity that it has the responsibility to find these objects.

Mat Kaplan: Casey, our listeners will forgive us if I go back to the Planetary Society's role in this that you mentioned. This is a real point of pride for the society, right?

Casey Dreier: Oh, of course. I mean it's one of our core enterprises that we do here at this society as planetary defense. As we record this, the Planetary Society just announced supporting a bunch of Shoemaker fellows who are [00:23:00] using their own time and primarily their own money and we su- support them to search for followup observations of these hazardous objects through our advocacy work. This is something that we did mainly on the low down no- not just because uh, there are times for big public pushes for things, but for the last two years we've been running a very consistent targeted effort to talk to key members of Congress to raise the awareness of planetary defense, to raise the awareness that we have a missions like a space-based infrared telescope that would serve this need and actually meet a congressional mandates set by Congress in 20- 2005 to find 90% of objects, 140 meters or larger by, by next year, which we will not do because Congress neglected to fund it and NASA neglected to request money for it.

NEO surveillance mission will help get there by the end of next decade. It could be one of the most important missions we ever do because it's going to be the first one dedicated to finding these [00:24:00] potentially threatening asteroids and comets that could be out there or could not be out there. We literally have no idea. We have statistical guesses based on what we've found so far.

Mat Kaplan: Emily, while we save the planet, maybe, uh, the, all this stuff is going to result in some good science, right?

Emily Lakdawalla: Oh, absolutely. These missions are designed to detect asteroids that we haven't found yet. Um, and so it'll be really interesting. This whole class of asteroids that is just in slightly different orbits. It'll be interesting to see if they're different or the same as the kinds of asteroids we've seen before. We'll have better population statistics. We'll be better able to track things over time and see how the orbits of smaller and larger asteroids change. Anytime you can add more statistics, you'll get more robust results. So I can tell you that scientists are salivating to get at the data that these missions will produce.

Mat Kaplan: And the very fact that it's looking for them in the infrared, the quality of the data from the infrared detections is literally an order of magnitude better than using visible wavelength of light that they use on the ground. So I [00:25:00] mean anything even in preexisting stuff, they'll get refined understanding of their characteristics as an astroid.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah, actually that's a very good point because um, when you're looking at, at asteroids and optical wavelengths, what you're seeing is light that's reflected from the sun. And how bright something is, is a product of both how distant it is from the sun, um, how large its diameter is, and also how reflective it's surf- surfaces. And you can't really disentangle those last two things to figure out exactly how big an asteroid actually is. But when you have the infrared data, it's much, much easier, especially in combination with the optical data. It's much easier to disentangle those two things and you can actually get much better estimates of the size and mass of these objects.

Mat Kaplan: I want to remind everybody that it was just a couple of weeks ago that, uh, we met a couple of those uh, Shoemaker NEO grant winners that uh, uh, Casey was talking about, that program that is funded by the Planetary Society. So you can check that out in our December 18 episode.

Much more from Jason Casey and Emily is moments away.

Casey Dreier: I know you're a fan of [00:26:00] space because you're listening to planetary radio right now, but if you want to take that extra step to be not just a fan but an advocate, I hope you'll join me. Casey Dreier, the chief advocate here at the Planetary Society at our annual day of action this February 9th and 10th in Washington DC. That's when members from across the country come to DC and meet with members of Congress face to face and advocate for space. To learn more. Go to

Mat Kaplan: Emily, back to you a, it's just hard to believe that it's only been about a year since a whole bunch of us gathered at Caltech standing room only. Big cheers for the landing of Insight on Mars. Give us an update on that mission, which is still working away on the surface though not without some continuing difficulties.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah, it's been, Insight has been a bit of a frustrating mission to follow because um, both of its main science instruments ran into some problems. The mole, which is the one that's supposed to bury itself in order [00:27:00] to measure how much heat is coming out of the interior has still not managed to bury itself. It got stuck for a long time. They started using this scoop in order to press against the soil around where the mole was trying to bury itself and it seemed to be making progress and then suddenly it leapt right out of the hole that it was digging. So who knows what's going on with that. I think that the main thing that we've learned from the mole so far is that we simply don't understand the properties of Mars soil. You know, the silver lining is that we're learning more about that.

I think that they have been making some forward progress recently, so all hope is not lost and JPL is trying very hard to get that thing buried. But last week we actually had some terrific news from the seismometer instrument, the other instrument. At the American geophysical union meeting, they released news that was also reported in Nature Magazine, that the seismometer has detected more than 300 earthquakes, uh, Marsquakes, of course, most of them are very small, but a couple of them quite a lot bigger. And they've actually localized them to [00:28:00] a specific spot on Mars, very close to one of the youngest volcanoes on Mars and that's Elysium.

The exciting thing about that is that we already knew that Elysium, like I said, was young. There's evidence that it's last eruptions were only a couple of million years ago, which is basically present day when you're talking about geology. And the fact that there are Marsquakes there tells you that Mars is still responding to that volcanism and it's hard to know whether the Marsquakes are related to actual magma moving around beneath the surface or whether it's a relaxation of Mars is a brittle crust in response to the loads and loads of lava that came out of the Elysium volcanoes. But either way, it's a sign of active tectonics, active geology on Mars, and I think that I can speak for most geologists when I can say that we're thrilled that, that we know that it's worthwhile to actually look for earthquakes or Marsquakes on Mars and we can use them now to trace the structure of the interior.

Jason Davis: It makes me really glad that they actually delayed [00:29:00] the mission to make sure that that seismometer worked. Because if that hadn't worked, and then the mole had, still having this kind of problems, you would basically have the failure of its two primary instruments of this mission. And looking at how difficult it's been just for the mole to get into the ground and stay in the ground and you just want to just reach out and grab it and just push it right, into that soil. So it just works.

Insight was a billion dollar mission just to do that. So imagine the amount of effort to get a person to the surface in order to shove that mole down into the ground. The lesson here is that we, keeping a certain sense of humility in the face of this level of exploration. People are trying to do, I think 2019 was a good point of that.

Emily Lakdawalla: And I think to emphasize, um, one of your points, the things that, that, uh, made us humble in 2019 we're the ones that involved interacting directly with surfaces. It's, um, it's gotten pretty routine to get into orbit or fly past a world. Pretty much [00:30:00] anybody can do it. The deep space communications are a little hard, but Europe and the United States are always there to help people out with that. But when it comes to actually landing on surfaces and interacting with them, trying to get sampling devices into them, uh, trying to retrieve samples, all of that stuff that involves physical interaction is really tough. It's exponentially more difficult than it is to do remote sensing. And I think people do need to keep that in mind.

Mat Kaplan: Emily, any other, uh, highlights 2019 highlights at the, at the red planet. Uh, other than that, it may not be as dead as people thought for a long time, at least geologically speaking.

Emily Lakdawalla: I suppose the highlight for me is that, um, so many missions are still active there. The fact that Odyssey is still going and Mars Express and even Mars reconnaissance orbiter is really venerable now and there are all these spacecrafts still operating. When you have more than one mission working at a time, it's not just addition, it's, it's multiplication of their capability. When you have so many different eyes [00:31:00] looking at a world with different wavelengths. So we're blessed with the longevity of these missions. Every year I predict that one of them is going to fail and um, every year I'm happy to be wrong.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Well let's pour one out then for opportunity on that very same note, which despite its best effort, I mean, it only lasted what, for 15 years, 14 years. [laughs]

Jason Davis: What's that? 60 times its warranty. [laughs]

Mat Kaplan: That was just an amazing mission. I vividly remember as a younger person now, [laughs] I guess technically we all were, watching that land and just being so excited back in 2004. And it was a bittersweet moment to see that mission in.

Emily Lakdawalla: It definitely was, you know, uh, opportunity. Um, the Mars exploration Rover mission and Cassini, which also was last heard from in 2018 really spanned my entire professional career. So having all those missions come to an end in the last couple of years has been, uh, a little sad, but I have to say that, that like most of the members of the opportunity team, I am so glad that it was Mars that killed the Rover and not some human error. [00:32:00][laughs] Um, the Rover did everything that it could, uh, to survive winter after winter that it wasn't supposed to be able to, the engineers did everything to eat every bit of power out of the solar panels. And in the end it was what we expected. It was a dust storm, too much dust on the solar panels that killed it. And that's uh, the way that it should have gone.

Mat Kaplan: Emily, I had one more question to talking about things at Mars. I heard a lot about methane or not methane being detected. The trace gas or orbiter not finding any methane seemed very surprising to me.

Emily Lakdawalla: I am also surprised about that. I think that the methane story is very confusing right now. Um, I that the trace gas orbiter not finding any methane does call a bit into question the results from Curiosity and, um, Curiosity's methane detecting instrument actually has a contamination problem that they believe and I was convinced, they believe they have managed to calibrate out, but now I wonder. And [00:33:00] so I think that the methane story is very confusing. We don't know how much there is. We don't know how variable it is. It's hard to trust any one instruments, um, conclusions. And so I guess the jury is still out.

Mat Kaplan: So as much as we have studied Mars, still much, much more to learn and confirm. Jason Davis, let's go to the international space station, which of course is what a couple of American companies are, are, are vying to do, uh, to return humans there as we speak.

Jason Davis: Yeah. Every year when we do these end of year roundups, I always say like next year, next year, that's the year that we're going to see people fly from, uh, Florida again to the station and then it doesn't happen. Um, I think next year might actually be the year. But, um, anyway, to recap what happened this year-

Casey Dreier: I'm actually betting on that on.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Jason Davis: Well, I've, I took out a second mortgage obviously because [laughs] it's, you know, go big or go home. So crew dragon, uh, and this is the crew, uh, capable version [00:34:00] of SpaceX's dragon capsule. Um, finally made its first flight to the International Space Station and it was, it just went pretty much flawlessly. Um, and there was the whole thing where they put a little stuffed earth toy on there and it was cute and floating around and everyone was happy. It was like, yay, commercial crew is back on track. We're almost there. We might even see humans fly later this year.

And then SpaceX goes to test their boat thrusters on that capsule that returned to earth. And it blows up. And I mean, it's just, uh, the amount of ups and downs this program has endured over the years. You know, and when you think about it, 2- 2006, I believe was when the very first commercial orbital transportation services contract was signed with NASA for a few companies. And 2008 was when SpaceX got picked to be an official provider for commercial cargo. So this program now is, we're going into the third decade, uh, technically of commercial crew [00:35:00] trying to get online and still not quite getting there. Um, obviously they've had a lot of successes with the cargo side of things, but they're still trying to fly humans. We haven't seen humans launch from the United States since, uh, 2011 at this point. So it's been quite a long time.

Uh, as we're recording this tomorrow, Starliner, which is Boeing's crewed uh, spaceship is going to make its first test flight to the International Space Station. So we don't know yet whether that will go successful, but if it does, we might actually see humans, uh, on both vehicles next year. But in the meantime, this still drags out. NASA is now talking about buying more Soyuz seats to fill the gap. They're going to have to use some of these initial crewed flights for actual crew rotations, possibly where they were supposed to be just, um, very light lift demos. So you know, a lot in motion there.

Mat Kaplan: That first Starliner flight, that's also going to be uncrewed, just like the SpaceX's Crew Dragon flight that's made it so far, right?

Jason Davis: Yes, absolutely. [00:36:00] Yeah. No one will be riding in the first one. And it's important to note that unlike shuttle where you had to have humans sitting at the controls, both of these can just fly up there by themselves and dock autonomously.

A big difference between the cargo and the crew variants of these vehicles is that cargo they had to kind of sidle up to the station to where an astronaut could grab the, uh, the vehicle with the Canadarm, the robotic arm on this station. Whereas the crew variants, they dock directly. So that means they all by themselves fly up and make contact with the station. Just the way a Russia's progress vehicle does, it's a big change. And um, it's really exciting that it's happened once and hopefully we'll see it happen here a second time and that'll pave the way for people.

Um, while we're on the ISS, I think it's also worth mentioning that it shouldn't have been a big milestone, but it was that we had the first all woman spacewalk this year, Christina Cook and Jessica Meyer, uh, both went outside on a spacewalk, um, [00:37:00] that was to repair, uh, batteries or to swap out some batteries that are aging.

Um, so that was a big milestone and we hope to see more of that. And, uh, one day when it's not such a big deal, but it was only women going out and there were also a series of spacewalks to repair the alpha magnetic spectrometer. And a lot of people don't know this, but I always love to mention it when I mentioned AMS. This is an astrophysics experiment and it's actually the most productive scientific experiment on the International Space Station, doesn't really have much to do with human space flight. Um, if you look at which papers coming from the ISS program have been cited the most, the AMS paper, the initial results from it is, uh, at the top of that list. So in that sense it's a pretty big deal for them to be doing a repair on it because it was never meant to be repaired.

Casey Dreier: Well, there are two things, Jason, that you just said that trigger some of my policy side of things related to commercial crew. There was an extraordinary I think and, [laughs] and again, so it was kind of amazing sometimes just how Congress tends to take some of these [00:38:00] things in stride because we don't have a lot of good options of what to do about them. But there was a NASA inspector general report about both contractors, SpaceX and Boeing. But saying that Boeing basically rung an extra 230 or so million dollars out of NASA for their "fixed price contract" for this public private partnership in order to keep doing Starliner, with the uh, kind of the insinuation that Boeing was willing to walk away from that program unless NASA gave them more money.

The whole thing that you brought up with the history of COTS and commercial providers is that NASA is supposed to be entering into a fixed price contract so that the companies are incentivized to deliver their product on time and on budget. Because if they don't, they eat the difference themselves. The public, the taxpayer doesn't have to pay for it, but in reality, when you put these programs into the critical path of something like the space station which has to be serviced, you have to get humans up there, you have to get NASA astronauts up there.

The power doesn't lie with NASA. The companies [00:39:00] themselves have an extraordinary amount of leverage in order to keep wringing money out if they want to. And so in that sense, I think we're starting to see hints of the optimism of these public private partnerships may be misplaced because the companies themselves can pull additional money for their own ends, you know, to cover their own development costs as needed. And so they don't actually have this protection for the tax payer the way they are pitched, they're just cost plus by a different name. The space station itself was only designed to last through the early 2020s, now we're talking about the centers talking about extending the ISS operations until at least 2030 which makes the space station a 30 year old project by the time that that's ended and committing the United States to spending an ongoing $3.5, $4 billion a year on just the space station as is, that's a significant chunk of NASA's budget.

These companies need to have a pay off on their investment and they need a longterm contract to keep servicing a space station and if [00:40:00] you end the space station program in 2024, three years after you first start launching commercial crew to them, they're not going to make that money back. These ideas are tied together very tightly and the idea of space station kind of like space shuttle, just this ongoing program that's always going to cost something because NASA and members of Congress want to preserve programs and jobs and, and ongoing things where they are now is going to be an ongoing policy problem and budgetary limit to what NASA is going to be able to do in terms of going beyond low earth orbit.

Jason Davis: And the whole idea of these public private partnerships as you said, is to spur on future uses for these vehicles. I think with SpaceX it's easier to make the case, you know, because they've become so successful in the launch industry and kind of change the launch landscape in the United States. That may have not have been the actual intent of um, doing these contracts with them, but you know, they have been able to leverage that money to shake up the monopoly that United Launch Alliance has here in the US. With Boeing it's, it's [00:41:00] definitely, uh, even harder to make the case and uh, that that was pretty extraordinary that NASA had to pay them essentially to keep going, which makes it more like a, um, a cost plus project than a fixed price contract.

Casey Dreier: And we should probably note that Boeing did vociferously dispute that report.

Mat Kaplan: Well, it is the International Space Station, uh, and as you talk about extending its life, uh, Casey, uh, it, the, our partners in the space station come to mind, uh, Europe and Russia of course. You've done some reporting I know on this passage of a, a new ISA budget, which, uh, gave a lot of people reason to be pleased. I don't know how the ISS fits in there, but there's a lot of other good news.

Casey Dreier: Oh the ISS fairs will in that budget, ISA is committed to partnering with NASA through 2030 on the ISS and this new three year budget that just was approved by the member States of the European space agency. It's ISA's, I think best budget ever, and it's roughly, it's kind of weird to compare [00:42:00] directly because it's much more complicated system than, than NASA, but you could say roughly it's about a 10% per year increase over the previous couple of year chunk.

ISA unlike NASA budgets in multi-year commitments, and so this is a three year budget that they're guaranteed to have now from all the member States. This makes it really easy for ISA to very carefully plan and phase its spacecraft development. Again, as part of this ongoing agreement, they, they committed to a number of really great missions from the Planetary Society's perspective there, there's two really highlights of this. One was a planetary defense mission. Their first it's going to be called HERA. It's going to be sent to the Didymo system to follow up on the impact test that the NASA mission DART is going to do in 2022.

So this mission will come a few years later. Finally characterize the system to really understand how well DART did to deflect the small moonlit around Didymos. And then the other big commitment that ISA made was to Mars [00:43:00] sample return. This is this huge effort that NASA has been working on for years or the entire I'd say Mars community has wanted for decades. NASA looks to be committing to landing a Rover to bring samples created by or collected by March, 2020 back to earth.

ISA is coming in with a major contribution, a multi-billion dollar or multi-billion Euro, I should say, contribution to provide a return to earth vehicle and a fetch Rover for the surface to pick up the little samples left by the March, 2020 Rover. So this is a huge commitment and really important to help keep the cost down in the US side, creates a huge amount of political stability for the United States to, to kind of continue investing in the next great missions for Mars exploration. Really important development here to see that.

Mat Kaplan: How about Europe's participation in uh, getting humans to back to the moon as a part of Artemis, I suppose?

Casey Dreier: It is, yeah. They've committed to starting to build two modules that will be added to the gateway, the Lunar Orbiting Space Station. And [00:44:00] there, it's actually technically their commitment to the ISS, but their, they pay off their ownership stake in the ISS by building the service module for the Orion crew capsule that will be taking uh, astronauts to the moon. And so they've committed to building, I think at least three more of those. They're committed to ongoing development of those service modules to support Orion.

Mat Kaplan: Let's go from Europe to the outer reaches of the solar system. And Emily, it was uh, the commitment to a mission which has really lit the imaginations of a whole lot of people.

Emily Lakdawalla: I'm so excited about dragon fly. And so is just about everybody who is on team outer planets. Uh, we're going back to Titan with, uh, not only a, a spacecraft going to land on Titan, but it's a, a quad copter for Titan. It's so cool. It's got a helicopter blades. It jumps up off the surface and land somewhere else and it takes pictures and it does sampling and, and it's going to be so extremely cool. [00:45:00] Uh, given the fact that I talked earlier in this conversation about how hard it is to land on other surfaces, I think it's worth mentioning that Titan is actually one of the easiest places to land on because the gravity is rather low and it has a nice thick atmosphere that is a very tall atmosphere. So you hardly need to do anything to slow down. You just have a little heat shield and a parachute and you can drift downwards very safely.

So as long as you can get your spacecraft out there, uh, it's, it's not so hard to land. It is very far away. And so it's going to take a long time for dragon fly to get there. And it's going to be a very scary moment when it does get there. But I'm, I'm just, I couldn't be more excited for this mission in part because the team is so wonderful. It's headed up by a woman named Elizabeth Turtle, known as Zibi Turtle who's at the applied physics laboratory. She just assembled the most wonderful team of people who are all equally passionate and excited about this mission. It's just going to be great fun to watch it go forward.

Mat Kaplan: And we have talked to Zibi a couple of times on this show, uh, specifically about [00:46:00] Dragon Fly. It sure is an exciting thing to look forward to. We'll go right on to the last thing we'll mention. Although there certainly are many that we could have extended this portion of the program with. It was a busy year. Uh, but we cannot leave it Jason, without talking about a mission that is still underway as we speak. Maybe surprisingly, LightSail 2.

Casey Dreier: Hey, what's LightSail?

Jason Davis: Yay, we did it. LightSail launched finally. Yeah. So LightSail which has been under development, uh, the Planetary Society since, uh, 2009 and that followed Cosmos, which launched on a Russian rocket, didn't make it into orbit. Long development period for this thing. Um, long wait to get it actually on a rocket. It was initially supposed to launch in 2016 but the Falcon heavy, which it hitched a ride with, um, got pushed back for three years, finally launched and uh, successfully deployed at solar sail and was able to demonstrate controlled solar sailing in uh, earth [00:47:00] orbit.

So that was a, um, a huge moment for the Planetary Society that, uh, all of our members who supported it throughout the years or made donations to it supported the Kickstarter that they ran a couple of years ago. Thank you for that. And uh, it was, it was great to finally see it fly

Mat Kaplan: And we will certainly see this come up again when we talk a little bit later today with Bruce Betts, uh, during the WhatsUp segment because a, we'll get his highlights of 2019 as well. And I have a feeling LightSail is a pretty big one for him since he headed that program.

Jason Davis: We do have some neat results that will be out in the next couple of weeks by the time this airs around January 10th, I think is when we're aiming to release some results from the mission. Basically there's an attitude control paper that's coming out and we'll try to summarize that, um, because it's a very meaty and dense paper into some, uh, lessons learned. So in case you're wondering what the spacecraft's been up to, yes. It is still up there doing its thing. Um, they've had some challenges. We'll talk about that very soon.

Casey Dreier: [00:48:00] Yeah. And we're not alone in our, um, our pride apparently. Tie Magazine, popular science, uh, getting a lot of recognition all around the world.

Mat Kaplan: Let's go on to the new year that has only just begun as this program becomes available online and we can start with, uh, submissions that are a head. Mostly a lot of missions, well we hope a lot of missions that will be headed to Mars in 2020. Emily, let's begin with uh, that Rover that is still only known as we speak as the 2020 Rover.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yes. There's four missions that are planned for launch, uh, this summer and still so far all of them are on schedule. NASA is sending one currently called Mars 2020, although it will have a different name by the time it launches. It's based on the body plan of the curiosity Rover, but everybody involved in the mission will tell you that it's actually quite a different spacecraft. And the instrument package is very different. It's not designed to do the kind of intense laboratory analysis activities on the surface of Mars. The space that was [00:49:00] occupied in Curiosity by two very sophisticated sample analysis laboratories are completely taken up in Mars 2020 with this sample acquisition and caching mechanism. And it's designed to, to drill into the surface, to take samples from soil, place them in these little hermetically sealed tubes, and then drop them on the surface for a future Rover to come fetch and bring back.

Mat Kaplan: So those are gone. But what about this new spectrometer that it is carrying uh, that has not gone to Mars before? And I guess there'll be two of them headed there if uh, ESA's Roselind Franklin, uh, leaves for Mars in 2020. It's a, is it, Raman or Raymond?

Emily Lakdawalla: I believe it's a Raman spectrometer and there, there are two of them, one on each of the rovers. And it's, it is a type of spectrometer that scientists had been wanting to get to Mars for a long time. And so it's, it's great that they are managing to get two of them. It'll be really interesting to compare the results from those two missions on different sides of the planet. You know, it's a, it's a different way of analyzing the light elements that are in, uh, that are preserved [00:50:00] in the Martian rocks to try to get at and understanding of what kind of organic materials were available and how they were processed in the mart- Martian environment before they were sealed within rocks.

It's a new way of looking at Mars and every time we bring a new way of seeing to another world, we get access to, um, answering questions that we haven't been able to answer before. So it's going to be exciting to see those results. For sure.

Mat Kaplan: Emily, can I just say as a non-scientist, I just love looking at the pictures of uh, I'm going to pronounce this wrong. I want to say Jezero, but I believe it's pronounced slightly differently.

Emily Lakdawalla: Technically it's, it's a Yezero crater but, uh, Yezero crater but, uh, I don't think you'll, I think you'll find most American scientists are going to go ahead and pronounce it Jezero. But yeah, so, so, uh, Jezero is a really cool crater because it's got this ancient river Delta exposed in it. It's been processed a lot since the Delta formed. Probably this Delta was buried and um, the Delta was actually beta lithified, turned into stronger rock and the rock, the material around it has been eroded away.

The Rover is [00:51:00] going to be able to land in the floor of the crater, drive up to the toe of the Delta, which is where the very finest sediments would have settled as the river was emptying into the crater Lake and then drive up the Delta to see all the different kinds of, of Lake, uh, nearshore environments that, that had been preserved to try to figure out how long this Delta was running the sea, whether it was built by fairly continuous flow that you might get from a regular precipitation or whether it was seasonal or whether it was just episodic. Whether this area was quiescent for a long time before you had occasional floods.

And all of those things will enter into how habitable an environment that persisted in this crater in the past. And so it's going to be really cool to see Curiosity just drive from the oldest to the youngest rocks all the way up this Delta.

Mat Kaplan: Seeing the orbital pictures of that Delta in history as a kid, you know, uh, when you learned about ancient Egypt that just like the Nile, the Delta there, it's like, it is the cradle of [00:52:00] civilization in life and the fertile Crescent. And I just always immediately picture something like that when I see that Jezero crater Delta and I'm just like, if any, if there's any good place to look for signs of pasture or present life, that would be it. So yeah, I'm super pumped about it.

Emily Lakdawalla: Now even people who disagree about how wet or warm Mars was in the past, everybody agrees that these craters like uh, Jezero and Gale held lakes in the past and the, the debate is really about how persistent they were, how long they lasted, how habitable the environments really were.

But um, there's absolutely no question that you can imagine yourself standing on Mars in one of these locations in the distant past with a river trickling into a crater Lake soft waves lapping at a Martian shore. It was all there at some time in the past for some length of time.

Mat Kaplan: Wow. Thank you for that image Emily. You said this is one of four. Uh, briefly take us through the other three that uh, hope to lift off.

Emily Lakdawalla: ESA is also sending a Rover. It would be uh, it's first Rover on [00:53:00] another world. Um, it'll be its third attempt to land on Mars. And the first two were not successful. Um, that was Beagel 2, which arrived with Mars express, which was kind of a spacecraft on a shoestring and nobody was particularly surprised when it didn't succeed. And then there was Schiaparelli which accompanied the ExoMars trace gas orbiter.

Uh, that was a little more surprising. It was another one of those spacecraft that survived nearly all the way down and then failed, um, close to the very end of the attempted landing. It's going to be a nail biter when they try to land ExoMars on Mars. This is a mission that's been in development for so very long. It's festooned with instruments. It has a very deep drill. It's got a drill that can go two meters in order to acquire samples. That's going to be exciting if that works. The mission is solar powered, uh, unlike the Mars 2020 Rover, which is uh, nuclear powered like Curiosity, that means that the mission has a relatively short warranty lifetime of about six months. Of course, everybody would hope that the spacecraft would be able to last longer than that, but, [00:54:00] um, it does need to try to get an awful lot done in its first six months on the surface.

Beyond that, there are two more missions. There is a Chinese orbiter, Lander and Rover mission. And so that's one of those things we'll, we'll be watching the arrival with bated breath. The likelihood of succeeding on a first attempt at Mars landing is, is pretty low. But, um, if anybody can do it, the Chinese can, uh, based on their track record on, on the moon. But I would expect that their orbiter would work. And the orbiter has a very large scientific package, including a, a camera that's supposed to rival the high rise camera on Mars reconnaissance orbiter. So that should be a very capable orbiter that should be arriving at Mars.

And then finally there is the United Arab Emirates is planning to send their first deep space mission beyond earth, skipping over, trying to do anything at the moon. They're headed straight to Mars and their orbiter is designed to be an atmospheric mission. It will be in a not particularly tilted, uh, not particularly close, fairly circular orbit around [00:55:00] Mars, which is quite a bit different from uh, MAVEN and ExoMars is trace gas orbiter. So it'll be interesting to be able to combine that dataset, which is a little bit more like a distant weather satellite, like the kinds that we have observing here on earth. Um, it'll be great to be able to combine that data with the, uh, much closer in data being acquired by MAVEN and ExoMars trace gas orbiter.

Mat Kaplan: And I've read just very recently that, uh, India's plan follow on to the Mars Orbital Mission, MOM, that that is likely to be delayed till 2022?

Emily Lakdawalla: India's missions developed just on very different timelines. And the, the timings of missions have a lot to do with the vicissitudes of politics and they tend to only work on one mission at a time. So, uh, you don't really get a certain launch date for these missions, um, until quite close to the launch sometimes.

Mat Kaplan: All right, let's leave Mars. Come back down here. Uh, where Casey, it's only in the last few days we have finally seen, uh, it appears to be in a way a budget for 2020 that should have been in [00:56:00] place on October 1st. Are you saying that we need to start thinking about 2021 already?

Casey Dreier: Oh, of course. The, the job of a space advocate has never done the annual budget cycle for the fiscal year 21, which confusingly begins on October 1st of 2020 calendar year. That president's budget request for that comes out in early February. Going back to how we started this episode, I'm going to be looking very carefully for how they project over the next five years. They're going to pay for this Artemis effort to continue to attempt to land in, in 2024. They requested 1.6 billion last year. A serious of commitment would be at minimum, I'd say a $5 billion increase to that program. The NASA administrator has repeatedly said that he does not want to raid science funding or any other programs at NASA to pay for Artemis. So we will have to see a significant increase to NASA's top line or we don't take Artemis seriously anymore. Uh, it's really [00:57:00] gonna come down to that.

Mat Kaplan: This also happens to be an election year here in the United States and as we all know, the, the number one issue for every presidential candidate is space exploration.

Casey Dreier: Yes. To fund the presidential debates ever since the 1960s. Yes. Uh, yeah, there's a little thing of the presidential election. Obviously we know who the Republican candidates going to be, where, we will find out who the democratic candidate will be by, by mid summer. It's going to be a long year and we will do our role to keep space as you know, as much as we can in part of that, that development process. We'll be reaching out to the democratic candidates, trying to get their, uh, policy perspectives on space, try to keep it in as part of the conversation, going to dominate all of politics as, as you know, for anyone who's been following this every four years, it very likely means that we won't actually have a final NASA budget until after the elections.

There is actually fewer and fewer congressional votes as the elections come up because no [00:58:00] one wants to take stands on anything. We'll see a NASA budget at the very end of the year, possibly. Obviously a lot of that depends on who wins and who also, again, Congress is up for election. All of the house of representatives is up for reelection and a third of the Senate. And so we will have potentially quite a bit of change or potentially no change at all. [laughs] So, uh, you plan accordingly.

Mat Kaplan: Casey, I'm glad that, uh, it'll be another year where you and your colleagues will be in there pitching for us inside the Beltway. Jason, you covered it pretty comprehensively, but you think we're gonna see Americans on an in an American vehicles returned to, uh, to space?

Jason Davis: Providing nothing goes bad with this Starliner demonstration. Uh, I think there's a very good chance we'll, we'll see humans launching from the US this year. Sometimes it seems fantastical at this point that it could actually happen because, you know, you ha- I have in my mind no other images of humans boarding spacecraft and in my lifetime than [00:59:00] either getting on the space shuttle or getting on a Soyuz rocket. Um, you know, with the exception of like China had some, uh, scattered launches here and there.

The idea of them doing the walkout to the Astro van in Florida and getting on it and driving out to the pad just seems incredible at this point. And to actually see it happen and see their faces on the ISS when they come through that portal, which hasn't been used. It's the front portal of the, essentially the front door of the International Space Station, which hasn't been used since the shuttle days. Um, it, it just, it's, it's going to be quite a moment. I'm very excited for it. I hope it actually, uh, I mean we will see and we'll also see who makes it first, whether it's Boeing or SpaceX.

Mat Kaplan: I should have qualified my question by making it not uh, first return American astronauts to orbit because there may be Americans who will return to space, at least suborbital space this year. Let's briefly mentioned that both uh, Virgin galactic and blue origin, uh, this might be the year that they get [01:00:00] paying customers up there.

Jason Davis: We did have in 2019 Virgin galactic astronauts take a test flight on spaceship two and actually cross the boundary of what is space or at least what most people think of space. So, there's a technical debate about where exactly that, uh, delineation is. Anyway close enough for most people. And then they are relocating their operations out to New Mexico and might start tourist flights as, as early as this year. Uh, in the meantime, Blue Origin has just been very successful with their new Shepard capsule and, uh, it seems like they're getting close as well. So we might have one or both of those, uh, conduct suborbital flights this year as well.

Mat Kaplan: Emily will give you the last word as we look to the future, or at least to the near term future, 2020 future of robotic space exploration around our solar system. Nobody follows this more closely than you. Uh, what are you looking forward to?

Emily Lakdawalla: Well, I'm looking forward to our OSIRIS-REx touching down and grabbing that sample and bringing it back. I'm looking forward to Hayabusa2's [01:01:00] return at the end of this year. It's always such a wonderful moment to see a spacecraft come back from deep space and return that sample and it's going to be especially poignant given the way the Hayabusa sample return ended. Um, that one of course ended with the spacecraft burning up in the atmosphere. Hayabusa2 should be able to go right past earth and, and go on to another mission someday. Um, but I think that the thing that I remain the most excited about is just how many spacecraft there are exploring how many different locations in the solar system. Everywhere from spacecraft on its way to Mercury to one currently orbiting Jupiter to the Voyagers that are still way beyond, uh, far beyond even the Kuiper belt and exploring the interstellar space, beyond heliosphere, they're just so many everywhere and there are so many more countries entering it.

There's going to be brand new datasets becoming available for us to see beautiful photos from places from the asteroid belt to the moon and Mars. Uh, it's just a great time to be a space fan.

Mat Kaplan: And of course that's Juno that is out there still orbiting [01:02:00] Jupiter. And, uh, with any luck, we're going to have Scott Bolton, the principal investigator for that mission on, uh ... Casey, Jason, any final words from either of you?

Casey Dreier: There's like 18 other things I wish we could talk about today.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Casey Dreier: But I'll just, I just want to list things I won't even talk about it, but important things I think to keep in mind that also happened this year. Space force actually looks to be happening in, in some version of that. The start of mega constellations like Starlink and how they're going to impact ground-based astronomy is also a really big deal. Uh, potentially moving forward. And the whole growth of investment into commercial space systems, particularly with, uh, I'd say rocket labs and very small rocket systems, this huge burst of potential happening in the commercial space market, but also focusing on how we're going to use that and to manage this incredible growth not just around earth, but also to preserve science and access to space for everybody.

Mat Kaplan: Jason.

Jason Davis: One thing we might mention in [01:03:00] SpaceX is Starship. That's the stainless steel spacecraft that they're building, uh, versions of in Texas and Florida. It's been interesting watching those come together. Uh, this past year, they, uh, managed to get one of them completely assembled and then they had, uh, an accident with one, but they're already moving on and building a new version of one. So, um, I expect that to continue into the next year. They always do these things very aggressively where they'd rather build and test and learn from their mistakes rather than doing it all on the drawing board. But, uh, it'll be fun to watch that play out over the year and we'll, we'll see what happens.

Mat Kaplan: Casey Dreier, Jason Davis, Emily Lakdawalla, thank you so much for being a part of this excellent start to the new year of 2020. I will only add that I feel so fortunate to be able to call all of you colleagues and friends. I am awestruck by the expertise that all of you represent and I look forward to talking to all three of you as we, uh, head out across, uh, across a brand new year. Thanks very [01:04:00] much.

Casey Dreier: I'm looking forward to it, Mat.

Mat Kaplan: Oh, thank you.

Emily Lakdawalla: Thank you. And happy new year to all of you.

Mat Kaplan: Time for a New year's. WhatsUp on Planetary Radio. So we are joined by the chief scientist of the Planetary Society. That's Bruce Betts. Happy new year.

Bruce Betts: Happy New Year.

Mat Kaplan: We should come up with some fireworks. Maybe I can find a firework uh, effect for that. Uh, although it probably wouldn't be good to talk about it and then do it. [laughs] Anyway ...

Bruce Betts: [laughs] Starting off on a smooth note for 2020.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs] Hardly. What kind of fireworks that go on, on up there in the night sky?

Bruce Betts: Oh, excellent. 2020 singly the year of excellent segues.

Mat Kaplan: What a save. [laughs]

Bruce Betts: In the evening Venus is just going to be our friend for the first few months of uh, 2020 looking over in the West, brightest star like object up in the night sky. Check it out in the early evening. And uh, you might still [01:05:00] catch Saturn down low in the West, uh, you might not. In the morning sky it'll be fairly easy to pick out Mars and the pre-dawn East looking reddish and getting brighter over the weeks and months. To it's upper right is the bluish star speaker, in the evening it got Orion coming up in the East, uh, Fomalhaut in the South, the lone Brightstar in the South in the, uh, evening. And then on January 3rd, 4th, the Quadrantids and above average meteor shower that I always have trouble pronouncing uh, will peak that evening the 3rd, 4th from a dark side, you might see as many as 40 meteors per hour. Uh, best feeling will be after midnight after this moon sets.

Mat Kaplan: I hope that a lot of people who, uh, had a chance to see it did see as we speak about two days ago, two nights ago, the moon and Venus very close together, really cozying up. And uh, it was just a gorgeous sight.

Bruce Betts: [01:06:00] Yeah. [laughs] I always, when I look up and see those and it was like, wait, I said that would happen and look it did.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Bruce Betts: It's like a miracle. [laughs]

Mat Kaplan: It's almost as if the universe was a big clockwork. [laughs] So that was a, that was a highlight for me of 2019. I do want to talk to you because we just spent our time talking with our colleagues about their faves from the year that has just passed and the year that has just begun. I want to get to that with you as well. But go ahead [inaudible 01:06:29] and tell us some of the other weekly stuff too.

Speaker 1: Uh, this week in space history, this first week of January, 15 years ago, Stardust encountered the comet Wild 2, Wild 2 and uh, sampled it and brought samples back to earth a wee bit later. And Spirit, the Rover, landed on Mars this week, 2004. It was a busy, busy activity, which is why we had an event called Wild About Mars [01:07:00][laughs].

Bruce Betts: Wild About Mars. [crosstalk 01:07:02]

Mat Kaplan: And it was great fun. It's now getting to the point where even when you look that far back, Planetary Radio was already underway, [laughs] which is just making me feel old.

Bruce Betts: Yeah, there's some great segments from that time period as, as always.

Mat Kaplan: Thank you.

Bruce Betts: We move on to [sings].

Mat Kaplan: [laughs] Old acquaintance will not be forgot.

Bruce Betts: [Laughs] So speaking of new years, the beginning of Mars years is defined as the Martian Vernal Equinox. In other words, the beginning of spring in the Martian, Northern hemisphere. The next Mars Happy New Year will be February 7th, 2021 in our calendar. Right about the time several spacecraft will be arriving to party at Mars.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs] I'm glad they can get there adjust in time for the bell. All the bun- the Martian party's underway.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Bruce Betts: [01:08:00] Moving onto the trivia contest, I asked you where, oh yeah, we were playing, where in the solar system? Where in the solar system is the crater [Forjoku 01:08:10]? How'd we do Mat? Did anyone know how to pronounce it better than I do?

Mat Kaplan: [laughs] No, but a lot of people had fun with it and learning about it too. Hear from Corey Hannon, who is clearly a fan of the expanse and also speaks Belter. So the answer in that dialect, oye Belter loader, Forjoku XM Sirius.

Bruce Betts: [laughs]

Mat Kaplan: Anyway, it basically, he's a, he's a Belter, which is appropriate since uh, sirius is in the belt. Is that where we'd find this odd crater?

Bruce Betts: It is indeed. It is on uh, the dwarf planet, largest asteroid series.

Mat Kaplan: Little more expanse uh, trivia here since we just did that interview with the authors and boy, what a great series. I binged on it and I'm, [01:09:00] I'm tempted to watch it again. Henry Sanford Crane and Elton Maryland said he believes that the current population of sirius according to the expanse is about six million Belters. He really enjoyed our expanse episode. And here's our winner. It's Sean Piper, a first time winner in Alexandria, Virginia. Series, watch out for those Belters and he adds, "I love your show. Thanks Mat." We said we would send out one of the new Planetary Society, uh, excuse me, Planetary Radio stickers, but Thomas of where the Planetary Society store is, and you can check out all of our merchandise there. Uh, he thought, ah, come on, don't be cheap. We'll send him three stickers. Three really cool stickers, all having to do with the Planetary Society and space exploration, including that new Planetary Radio sticker.

And we're going to do that again in the next contest with a Planetary Radio T-shirt. But I got some other stuff for you first. Dave Fairchild uh, a poet Laureate. [01:10:00] Forjoku is a crater and hexagonal in shape. It has some streaks along at where ejecta has escaped. You'll find it up on sirius if you check the diagrams, a God from Earth's Nigeria who always brought the yams. Did you discover that? I mean we had a ton of people who responded who said that, yes, it is supposedly the God to people in Nigeria who uh, brought humanity yams, which Devin O'Rourke in Lakewood, Colorado is very grateful for. He says, I guess we can thank Forjuku for sweet potato fries.

Bruce Betts: Ah, nice.

Mat Kaplan: Finally Jean Lowen in Spokane, Washington. Just a part of the poem that he sent. If, if it could explain this hexagram, it sure to say I am what I am.

Bruce Betts: Ah, all right. And I didn't clear this with you ahead of time Mat. I just want you to think about that. But unfortunately you edit the show. So I got rid of my original idea and came up with this [01:11:00] idea that hopefully you like, I've challenged the audience to make up a joke that relates to space and to new year's Eve day or the new year, I have nothing. Maybe you do.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Bruce Betts: Go to We'll look for what we think is the funniest or most creative or whatever tickles us.

Mat Kaplan: And you've got until the 8th, the 8th of January to answer this, this wonderful challenge. Uh, Wednesday at 8:00 AM Pacific time that is. So it has to be something, a joke that mentions both space in some aspect and the new year.

Bruce Betts: Right. In some aspects.

Mat Kaplan: Okay.

Bruce Betts: So I'm trying to give you specifics. You have to tie two things together in a, a joke. But other than that it's fairly broad. Yeah. I just got challenged for my super cool space facts book, making up dumb jokes, which some have referred to perhaps pejoratively as dumb jokes. And uh, and I thought, well, let's challenge other people that come up [01:12:00] with some dumb jokes or good jokes, you pick.

Mat Kaplan: So you're basically saying, you think this is easy.

Bruce Betts: [laughs] Exactly.

Mat Kaplan: All right. So, uh, I know you folks are up to it out there. At least one of you is going to get that package. Uh, three terrific new stickers from chopshop including the Planetary Radio sticker. And from that same source, a Planetary Radio T-shirt. Is a riddle okay if it's a humorous riddle?

Bruce Betts: Sure. Riddles, palms uh, question/answer knock, knock. Uh, two planets walk into a bar or whatever.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs] Okay. Now I'm thinking I'm, I'm already distracted trying to think of one of my own.

Bruce Betts: [laughs]

Mat Kaplan: Let's go to, uh, your thoughts about the year completed and the year to come. What do you look back on most fondly or at least most significantly in 2019?

Bruce Betts: Mm, I'm going with LightSail 2.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs][01:13:00] Such as sobriety. Did anything else happen [laughs] in 2019 in space exploration? I'm just kidding. I don't think you had much time to consider anything else.

Bruce Betts: No, I didn't. [laughs] Still don't. Uh, anyway LightSail 2 obviously a big highlight. First solar sailing demonstration with a small satellite, small spacecraft and uh, we did it and it's still flying and we're still solar sailing so that as well as, you know, doing presentations and papers and all sorts of good stuff to sa- share the, share the knowledge, share the love.

Mat Kaplan: I bet you've got at least one more thing that you look back on uh, with interest.

Bruce Betts: Well yeah it is, it was a party on several fronts tied to planetary defense, protecting the earth from asteroid impact. You got two spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa2. Then I'm sure you discussed in your conversation, getting groovy images and Hayabusa2 doing sampling and OSIRIS-REx getting ready too. We also had a, the every other [01:14:00] year planetary defense conference. We just gave out our planetary society Shoemaker near earth object grants. They uh, started a new mission that this community has been calling for for a very long time to do a space spaced infrared telescope survey to find more stuff, which is just been a planetary defense party, which I, I'm loving.

Mat Kaplan: Let's look to the year that has just begun as people hear this. What, what are you most excited about?

Bruce Betts: The new fleet of Mars spacecraft of course. And so that launching in the summer with the Mars 2020, which Planetary Society is involved with, but it's just another amazing mission. Then ExoMars and Chinese mission and the UAE mission. Just going to add to the flotilla that's already there and it's uh, very exciting all sorts of good stuff, good science, good mission stuff. They use the word stuff enough for, it's ma- It's 2020 the year of using the word stuff.

Mat Kaplan: Good stuff.

Bruce Betts: More obscure. [01:15:00] That'd be Colombo doing earth and Venus flybys is it winds its way towards Mercury. What do you got?

Mat Kaplan: What have I got it? Just one thing and it's a little self serving but it didn't come up with our other colleagues and that is that uh, we will be celebrating. We've already begun, but uh, this will also be the year that we do much more celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Planetary Society. And so I hope people will get a chance to participate in that one way or another.

Bruce Betts: Yay. Happy new year Anne, happy anniversary.

Mat Kaplan: And a happy new year to you my friend. And uh, I look forward to, as I've said before, another year of uh, hanging out with you every week for a, for this segment of the show.

Bruce Betts: Me too. Me too friend and thank you so much for doing this. Making it happen. Oh.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs] Okay. That's enough. I think we're done. Take us out for uh, the first time in 2020.

Bruce Betts: Wow. All right everybody, go out there and look up the night sky and think [01:16:00] about what you're looking forward to in 2020 and in the decade of the 2020s. Thank you. And good night.

Mat Kaplan: Nice. All right. I resolve to do exactly that [laughs] in the new year. And he is the chief scientist of the Planetary Society, Bruce Betts, who joins us every week for WhatsUp. A program note, what would have been the January 3rd space policy edition is going to be delayed one week, to January 10th. Planetary Radio is produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and it's made possible by its members who also look forward to a great new year out there on the final frontier. Want a piece of it? Join us at Mark Hilverda is our associate producer. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Peter Peter Schlosser. Member or not, I hope you'll be exploring with us throughout 2020. Happy new year all and ad astra. [01:17:00]