Planetary Radio • Apr 15, 2020

NASA Administrator James Bridenstine Returns

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Jim bridenstine nasa

Jim Bridenstine

NASA Administrator

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

We talk with NASA’s leader about how the agency is meeting the challenge of the pandemic. He looks forward to the future with confidence as he offers updates on projects including the Perseverance Mars rover, the Artemis Moon program, and the effort to send U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station on U.S. commercial crew vehicles. Planetary Society Chief Advocate Casey Dreier marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13 and introduces us to his remarkable new planetary exploration budget dataset. What’s Up also celebrate the “successful failure” of Apollo 13 as Bruce Betts tours the night sky and presents a new space trivia contest.

Jim Bridenstine NASA Portrait
Jim Bridenstine NASA Portrait
Lunar Gateway 2024 configuration (May 2019)
Lunar Gateway 2024 configuration (May 2019) By the first Artemis Moon landing in 2024, the Lunar Gateway would consist of the Power and Propulsion Module (PPE) and a U.S. Utilization Module. Shown here are those 2 modules with a logistics resupply module, and a lunar lander, ascent vehicle, and transfer vehicle. Orion is approaching from the right.Image: NASA
NASA Perseverance rover (artist's concept)
NASA Perseverance rover (artist's concept) This artist's rendition depicts NASA's Perseverance rover studying a martian rock outcrop.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech

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Trivia Contest

This week's prizes:

Bruce and Mat will record an outgoing message for your phone, if you dare.

This week's question:

In what kind of aircraft did NASA Administrator James Bridenstine fly combat missions off the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln?

To submit your answer:

Complete the contest entry form at or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, April 22nd at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Last week's question:

Which X-15 pilots later flew on NASA space missions?


The winner will be revealed next week.

Question from the April 1 space trivia contest:

What mission saw the first musical instruments played in space? (Human performance on a real instrument or instruments. Live. In space.)


Astronauts Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford played “Jingle Bells” on an eight-note harmonica and jingle bells during their flight on Gemini 6A.



Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [00:00:00] NASA administrator, James Bridenstine, returns this week on Planetary Radio.<\/p>

Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society, with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. NASA in the time of COVID-19, the leader of the United States Space agency will share with us, how it is meeting the challenge of the pandemic and looking forward toward what he still sees as a bright future across the expanse. You'll only hear this conversation on Planetary Radio. We'll look back at Apollo 13 with Planetary Society Chief Advocate, Casey Dreier. Casey will also introduce us to his planetary exploration budget data set. We'll close, as always, with an examination of the night sky, courtesy of Bruce Betts.<\/p>

Bruce will reveal the performers of the first concert in space and much more. All of that is ahead, [00:01:00] right after this week's glance through The Downlink, The Planetary Society's gift of resources that will fuel your interplanetary journey for the next seven days. Don't miss it's shot of Saturn's rings taken through the thick atmosphere of Titan by the Cassini spacecraft. Comet 2I\/Borisov, an interstellar visitor that was detected passing through our solar system last year has apparently split into two pieces. Researchers made the discovery using the Hubble Space Telescope. Bruce, will have more comet news during What's Up.<\/p>

NASA has closed the application period for its latest round of would-be astronauts. More than 12,000 people applied from every U.S. state, the district of Columbia and four U.S. territories. The lucky few will be announced in roughly a year. The European-Japanese BepiColombo spacecraft flew by earth on April, ninth using our planet's gravity to swing towards the inner solar system. To reach Mercury, the [00:02:00] spacecraft has to perform one flyby of earth, two flybys of Venus and six flybys of Mercury itself before settling into orbit in 2025.<\/p>

And there are once again six humans aboard the International Space Station though not for long. You'll hear about the ones coming home in my conversation with the NASA administrator. That's just a fraction of what you'll find in The Downlink. It's at\/downlink, where you can also sign up to have it delivered free each week.<\/p>

Casey Dreier is The Planetary Society's Chief Advocate and Senior Space Policy Advisor. Casey, we get to mark one major, major anniversary and then talk about this remarkable research that you've done, which we, uh... well also comes up in the recent conversation we had as part of the Space Policy Edition. But let's start with Apollo 13 that, that wonderful failure that became a [00:03:00] marvelous success.<\/p>

Casey Dreier:<\/strong> A successful failure-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Yeah.<\/p>

Casey Dreier:<\/strong> ... and backwards. Yes, it's the 50th anniversary of that mission happening, as we're recording this, we have a bunch of new resources on Uh, it's right up on our homepage this week, dived into the history of that mission, summarized some major events, obviously in it, and went into a nice technical but readable, I think, explanation of what exactly went wrong to cause the explosion that crippled that mission. So it's, it's worth remembering kind of the, the high point of what NASA was able to do in the face of adversity. And hopefully a little metaphor for how humanity is facing its current adversity right now. That we can really band together and figure out some really hard things on the fly when we need to.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> What a great point. And I, I just wanna give an extra boost to that, that technical explanation that you mentioned of what went wrong. I mean I knew a little bit about what happened. The, the, the tank that [00:04:00] exploded, but, uh, i- i- it was really quite a revelation, uh, reading what you were able to learn as you dug into these documents. So, thank you for that. Highly recommended at Also, highly recommended... Talk about digging into... give us a... your little thumbnail description of this marvelous, uh, budget research you've done.<\/p>

Casey Dreier:<\/strong> Well, I'm doing this project that I'm gonna talk about. I, I, I did it for me and I just assumed that there were other number nerds out there-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [laughs].<\/p>

Casey Dreier:<\/strong> ... who also really, really wanna know how much Mariner 10 cost-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [laughs]<\/p>

Casey Dreier:<\/strong> ... [crosstalk 00:04:34] back in the day. And, and Mariner [laughs]-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Why not?<\/p>

Casey Dreier:<\/strong> [laughs]. Yes. So this is new. We just released this last week. I'm really proud of this work. It's the Planetary Exploration Budget Dataset. It is the most comprehensive accounting of NASA's expenditures on robotic planetary science missions in its entire history. That means starting in 1960 going through now 2020 and projections [00:05:00] into 2024 of every single planetary science mission, how much NASA spent per year, how much NASA requested, how much the White House requested per year. In the 20th century, we have how much Congress mandated for various programs, where they made those mandates.<\/p>

So it's this incredible way you can compare not just, you know, the total amount reported spending, but the annual spending, where it went, how fast it went. And then you can really do very fine and improved adjustments for inflation. That way you can compare the differences between the White House proposals and the congressional proposals, what NASA actually spent. You really start to see and these longterm trends really pop out because we're The Planetary Society, we're a nonprofit and because we work for you, our members, we made all of this research and all of this data free to anybody anywhere who wants to dive in deep and help me discover new trends and insights into the history of planetary exploration at NASA.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> It's not just, I mean, [00:06:00] you talked about individual budget for missions like Mariner 10 but it's the overall trends that I find especially fascinating as different destinations around the solar system, sort of jockey for first place in, in terms of the funding that they receive from year to year. And there's so much more as you dig into this. I mean, I told you before, I think they're gonna be a lot of space historians and policy experts who are, are gonna owe you a, a beer, at least.<\/p>

Casey Dreier:<\/strong> [laughs] \"Thanks,\" will suffice but I'll, I'll take whatever people want.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [laughs].<\/p>

Casey Dreier:<\/strong> Well and the- there, there are two things. So first I wanna emphas- you can find this, uh, right now at\/spaceadvocate. I have a lot longer discussion of methods and some details and nuances and so forth in it, but it's also, I see this as a version 1.0. I'm really asking for anybody who really wants to help me dive into the details here. We have areas where there's not a lot of public reporting that's particularly from extended mission operations. A lot of stuff [00:07:00] in... early in NASA's, uh, reporting history. You know, as things were changing in the early '60s, very rapidly. If people have insight or ideas or suggestions or even just corrections into this data set, please email me. I, I want that community's help. I want our members' help to continually improve this data set to make it that academic reference quality source.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> All right. There's your invitation to get involved, from the chief advocate for The Planetary Society, our senior space policy advisor. He has provided more proof of that with his recent work. Thank you and congratulations, Casey. We'll talk again soon. Stay safe.<\/p>

Casey Dreier:<\/strong> Thanks Mat. And I can't wait to listen to the interview with, uh, NASA administrator, Bridenstine. I am just as excited about this as all of your listeners.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> James Bridenstine went straight from Congress to leadership of Earth's largest space agency almost exactly two years ago. What a two years it has been. NASA was shaken up last year when the Trump administration [00:08:00] announced, that humans would return to the moon and soon, very soon, no one suspected that barely a year later, the agency would be caught up in the greatest health challenge our planet has faced in a century. Through it all, the administrator has retained his unbridled enthusiasm for what NASA can accomplish. That characteristic enthusiasm was obvious when he joined me from his home on April 13th for this second exclusive Planetary Radio conversation.<\/p>

Administrator Bridenstine, thank you so much for returning to Planetary Radio. We are honored to have you back, especially at a time when I'm sure things are, are even busier than usual there at NASA. Welcome.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Well thank you. It is busier than usual, for sure. It's also challenging. Uh, we're, we are all working from home right now. At least most of us are. in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But we do have some mission essential functions that are going forward. And I'm, I'm happy to talk about [00:09:00] those, but I will just tell you, I am very, very proud of all of the work that this little agency is doing in these trying times especially, you know, when kids are out of school and everybody is at home and spouses are both in some cases working from home at the same time. Um, and yet we're still, we're still producing. It's quite, uh, quite impressive to watch this agency work.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> I wanted to ask you about that specifically, but, but before that, I hope that, that you and yours are all doing well in the midst of this.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> We are. I've got a wife, uh, three kids and a mother-in-law that all live under my roof here and everybody is healthy. We are staying home for the most part. My wife this morning, went to the grocery store to get some food. But, um, as it is, she, she sits in the car and they bring the food out. So, um, I think we're all good for now and doing everything we can to stay healthy and I just want to encourage everybody who's listening to do the same, [00:10:00] uh, because if, if each one of us is healthy, it's good for all of us. So thank you for all the good work being done out there.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Strange times. Um, back to that wonderful, very innovative workforce that you've got. I mean, it c- what are a couple of examples of how NASA is, is stepping up to, uh, to help with the response to the pandemic?<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> So there's a couple of things. Uh, we have a lot of supercomputing capacity that, uh, we are making available to, um, the Office of Science and Technology Policy in The White House. That supercomputing capacity will be used by the FDA and Health and Human Services and others, to ultimately look for treatments, uh, and make available remedies for coronavirus as remedies become available. We have amazing biologists throughout the agency that we are making available to, um, the federal response. Um, and at the same time we, we look at, um, organizations like NASA JPL. They're actually working hard, uh, no kidding, [00:11:00] producing technology that, that could be used to save lives. We're talking about, you know, ventilators-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Mmm.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> ... So there's a lot of good work being done at the agency. We're, we're, we're working on how do we take the PPE, the Personal Protective Equipment and how do we sterilize it so we can reuse it rather than just discarding it. Um, and that would of course make, make more PPE available to more people. We have a lot of unique technologies. We launched kind of a, an online brainstorming session just the other day where we asked all of our NASA employees to consider what, what it is that they do and how it could be helpful in the national response to coronavirus. And as you know, NASA has some amazingly brilliant employees. Uh, we've recie-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [crosstalk 00:11:44] now. [laughs].<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> We received, uh, 200 and some responses at this point. Um, these response, uh, responses have been commented on by the NASA workforce. Thousands of times, thousands of responses as far as comments go. Um, [00:12:00] and then we're gonna prioritize and make them available to the different agencies, FEMA, et cetera, that are, that are working on the response. So I think it's important to note that NASA, um, has been and NASA will continue to be and are doing everything that it can to be a part of the solution to this, uh, very challenging time.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> What's the status of the agency itself overall? I mean, we know a lot of centers are, are still at what you call stage four-<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yeah.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> ... Couple more, I think at stage, stage three, including Kennedy Space Center, which, uh, is [laughs] got a... got a bunch of rockets up in the space.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yeah. So when you're at stage three, uh, that, that means that the center is on mandatory telework, other than the mission essential functions and then those functions will continue to go forward. The two big mission essential functions that we have as an agency right now are commercial crew. So that's the effort-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Mmm.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> ... to launch American astronauts on American rockets for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles back in 2011. That's an e- that's an [00:13:00] essential function really for one reason. We have to make sure that we have access to the International Space Station, which is a $100 billion investment by the American taxpayer. Commercial crew is our assured access to this massive investment by the American taxpayer so that, that mission is going forward.<\/p>

And then we have another mission that we're very excited about. Mars Perseverance, uh, used to be called Mars 2020 but we renamed it Perseverance because it is such a unique time and we as an agency are persevering and all of America and the world in fact, we're all persevering and, and that's why we think this is a, a great name for this little robot that's going to Mars. But that's mission essential for one reason and that is that we, we have a very limited launch window to go to Mars. And if we miss that launch window, it will cost us upwards of $500 million over the course of two years. If not wreck the mission [00:14:00] altogether, which we do not want to have happen. So we wanna make sure that we hit this launch window and, and that's, that's what we're working on.<\/p>

So in stage three, everybody works from home except for those that have to be on-site for doing that, the har- the labor that's necessary to get these missions ready to go. And so certain people are going to work. They're going to work with as many precautions as we can attain. We're spreading the people apart, uh, just physically from, from, you know, one person to the other. We're trying to make sure there's at least six feet. We're putting people on different shifts, so they're not at work at the same time. And then using PPE when and where appropriate. So we're doing all of the things to mitigate the risk. You know, w- we have an ambitious goal to make sure that, if you're working on one of these mission essential functions, we want you to be safer at work than you would be if you were staying at home.<\/p>

So that's what we're shooting for day in and day out. And it's also true. And this is very important. The [00:15:00] NASA workforce... Look, if, if there's anybody in the NASA workforce that doesn't feel comfortable doing what they're doing, we want them to say so and we want them to feel free to do something else. We wanna help them in fact do something else. We don't want anybody to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Our employees are the number one highest priority of the agency and we want everybody to feel safe in this very unique moment in time. And so we're giving people a lotta latitude so that they feel safe and there will be no judgment on them at all. We want people to feel safe and feel free to say that, \"Hey, we, we don't think we should be doing, be doing these activities.\" If in fact they don't feel they should be doing those activities.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> You know, I just saw exactly that in a message that you sent to, uh, NA- the NASA workforce. Uh, and it didn't occur to me until now. Uh, few months ago. I was lucky enough to be, uh, in the High Bay at JPL with Perseverance, uh, wearing a bunny suit of course. And I was thinking, \"My goodness.\" Those [00:16:00] people... Uh, [laughs] the ones who were-<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yeah.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> ... still wearing bunny suits around, uh, Perseverance, now that it's, uh, at the Kennedy Space Center, that that was to protect the spacecraft. Now, that they're protecting each other. [laughs].<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> That's right. That's right. It is unique. We do have, as an agency we have PPE, uh, that we use, uh, as you mentioned to protect our spacecraft. We've been asked by a number of agencies if we could use that for, for medical purposes, it's not exactly the same. Um, and it might not be the most effective, to the extent we can supply PPE that would be helpful to the medical community we do, but I think in many cases our, our PPE is very different than the medical community's PPE.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Mmm. More of my conversation with NASA administrator, James Bridenstine is a minute away. It's not all rocket science, of course, only the best parts and that includes Rocket Science wine from the Caldwell vineyard. See what I did there. Okay. Maybe not my most creative moment, but Caldwell is [00:17:00] offering you an opportunity to shine. The submission deadline for the Rocket Science Back Label competition is rapidly approaching touchdown. You have up to 80 words to tell the world how this superb, richly flavorful vintage inspired by our exploration of the cosmos has inspired you. Finalists will receive a case of Rocket Science adorned with your tribute. You'll find the details at\/rocketscience. My suggestion, enjoy a glass as you sit down with a word processor or grip your pencil. Caldwell, that's C-A-L-D-W-E-L-L and the site is\/rocketscience. I look forward to seeing your winning contribution on the back of the bottle. Cheers and, ad astra.<\/p>

It's no secret that, uh, work on, on some other missions and projects is either on hold or has been cut back because of the pandemic, including sadly the James [00:18:00] Webb Space Telescope. But I wonder about the longterm effects, not so much of the virus itself, but about the unprecedented fiscal measures that Congress and the administration have taken to shore up the U.S. economy and-<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yeah.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> ... jobs. Do you worry about what this may mean for NASA in the coming years?<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Uh, I worry about what it means for the nation. I'm not gonna lie about that. We're talking about injecting trillions of dollars of liquidity, zero interest rates, just lots and lots of money that, that is basically newly created. And so I think there's a risk of inflation down the road. And that concerns me. But, but I will say that, I mean the... I think, you know, what are, what are the options that are in front of us? I mean, we, we can't let the economy go into, you know, another Great Depression. So I think people are doing the right things. It's just a terribly unfortunate circumstance.<\/p>

The other big challenge for NASA, and I get this question a lot, is what does this mean to the NASA budget? People have this sense that because we're... w- we just passed a $2.2 trillion [00:19:00] stimulus package that, that means that NASA's budget is gonna get cut. And I will say, I don't think that is the case at all. In fact, I think it's just the opposite-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Mmm.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> ... When the Congress makes a decision to stimulate the economy, they're doing it for a reason. But basically what happens is when the, when the private sector quit spending, the government sector comes in and says, \"Okay, we're gonna continue to make sure that the, the economy is stimulated basically to smooth out the business cycle where the economy would have normally gone down. Now it can stay smooth. That's the intent anyway, whether or not it works, uh, it's a mixed bag when you look at, at past precedent. But I think the, uh, the idea is sound and I think that, um, at this point, because the government has made a determination that they need to spend money, I think it's just the opposite. I think NASA is actually... we're gonna have a good budget.<\/p>

And in fact, I saw that, um, you know, the president is pushing forward on, on a stimulu- not a stimulus, but, uh, an [00:20:00] infrastructure bill and NASA is... we're gonna, we're gonna play in that infrastructure bill because we are part of the American infrastructure. Each of these are signals, number one, that the U.S. government is gonna continue to spend money and NASA is an area where that money is gonna be spent. But we just said, we also have to think about, because the government is doing this, there's longterm implications that that might not be what everybody is hoping for. I'm talking about the future that would include inflation if it's not handled correctly. And I, I do think that there's gonna be... I mean, make no mistake, there's gonna be good decisions in the future after this pandemic has passed and, and they can unwind a lot of the activities that they have, um, brought forward.<\/p>

So, I mean, there is concern there from a government-wide perspective and that does in fact, uh, affect NASA in the longterm. But I think in the immediate term, when we think about budgets, I think NASA is as strong as it's ever, as it's ever been. Our, our, our budget request right now is that, the highest budget requests in the [00:21:00] history of the agency. We're currently at about 21 billion and we're going up to 25.2 billion in our budget request. So that's, that's a big increase and we have bipartisan support in Congress. So I think we're in good shape.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> You've got... it occurs to me a, a lot of former colleagues in Congress where, you know, you represented Oklahoma for five years. I imagine those relationships are more valuable than ever now.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Very much so. And I will tell you, I'm, I'm thrilled that we have the bipartisan support that we have. You know, one of the things I wanna do while a lot of members are at home is, I wanna do town halls, uh, with members of Congress in their districts, uh, virtually, you know, whether it's a, uh, a telephone town hall or even a, a virtual town hall using, um... People could go online and, and we could talk face to face. I just wanna make sure that we are staying engaged with our members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, in both the house and the Senate and letting them know that NASA is continuing to do stunning things that are, that are gonna benefit the nation. And what we do [00:22:00] is not... it's not about this year or next year, we're doing things that are multi-decadal and in fact multi-generational in nature. And we have to have the longterm vision from both, both parties. And right now we need it more than ever.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Before we turn to the moon... uh, return to the moon and, and Artemis and I, I'm thinking, uh, you remind me of how it was only about a year ago talking about science and exploration, that you were able to, uh, assure a lot of us who care a l- a lot about those that, \"Don't worry, we're gonna make sure that those are, are protected.\" That of course was before the world turned upside down and I... A- a- are you still feeling confident about NASA's ability to, to put resources toward things that, uh, a lot of our listeners are sure looking forward to? Europa Clipper, Dragonfly-<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yeah.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> ... down the line, and Perseverance of course, the first phase in that long dreamt of goal of, uh, of Mars sample return, which is, uh-<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yeah.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> ... There- there's a lot left to do in that direction a- and how do you feel now?<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> You know, I, I would [00:23:00] assure your listeners that some of those missions are not what we have deemed as mission essential. And so they're on pause right now. But I would also say that they are critically important missions that will go forward, um, when we get past the pandemic. And I do believe we will get past the pandemic and, and we want to see those missions be successful as much as everybody else does. Um, I know there's a lot of your listeners that have been working on these missions a long time. Dragonfly, I'm telling you, I am so excited about Dragonfly.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [laughs] You and us both.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yeah, Mar- Mars Perseverance. I'm excited about because, because it's gonna have the world's first interplanetary helicopter, um-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Oh, yeah.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> ... and so that's gonna be, that's gonna be an amazing proof of concept for what Dragonfly will be, um, at Titan. So there is so much in front of us that we're about to discover and learn and, and get a better understanding of our own solar system and in fact, all of, all of the planets around all of the other stars, all the exoplanets [00:24:00] that we're learning about. You know, this morning I had a brief. We just discovered another earth-sized planet-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Mmm.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> ... that is orbiting the star that's pretty similar to our star and it's orbiting that star at about the same distance the earth is orbiting from, from our star. The similarities are, are striking. And so these things are so exciting. The Planetary Society and, and NASA w- we've gotta make sure that, that we're not losing sight of, of these, you know, kind of exploration moments that are so important.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> I said, \"We go to the moon.\" Let's, let's do that. Let's go back to the moon. Artemis, very ambitious program from the start. You know, that target of 2024 can't be helped by the presence of a, a pandemic. And-<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yeah.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> ... you know, if you could start by talking about where we are with Orion, that spaceship and that big rocket, the Space Launch System.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> So Orion is now fully tested. It's, uh, it's ready to go. We, we feel really, really confident in [00:25:00] Orion. I will say, the SLS rocket, uh, right now is kind of in a holding pattern. We had, uh, an outbreak of coronavirus down in New Orleans and Stennis, which is where the SLS rocket, uh, the first one is being tested. And so, uh, we moved very quickly to stage four. We talked about stage three, which is mandatory telework plus mission essential functions can go forward.<\/p>

Stage four is basically we're shutting everything down unless it's critical infrastructure necessary for the safety of lives. That's a tough spot to be in for SLS. Uh, I will also say that I think we're still on track for 2021, for Artemis 1. Artemis 1 is going to be launched on the first SLS, which is currently at Stennis undergoing the Green Run. Although that has now been put on hold. Let's pretend for a second that this coronavirus goes on for a number of more months, which we're all hopeful that it does not. But if [00:26:00] it does and it pushes that first SLS launch into 2022, if that were to happen, we would need to be prepared to look at how that affects SL- you know, the second launch of SLS or-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Mm-hmm [affirmative].<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> ... what we call Artemis 2. At this point, those two missions are operating very independently of the other. Artemis 1 if it slides, it doesn't bump up and s- start pushing back Artemis 2. And as long as that's the case, we could actually slip Artemis 1 if necessary. You know, you can only slip for so long though. Eventually it's, it's going to imp- impinge on Artemis 2. We're not there yet, um, and I think we're quite aways from being there, but it is absolutely true that this, this could have an effect if this goes on too long.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Yeah. Well, getting humans back there, putting, as you've said, the first woman and the next man on the moon, that's just part of what's going on. Of course, a lot of us of The Planetary Society, were happy to learn a few days ago that this small aerospace company, [00:27:00] Masten Space Systems has joined others in the, uh, Commercial Lunar Payload Services or CLPS program. We work with Masten and, and Honeybee robotics to find and test what we call PlanetVac-<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yeah.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> ... Uh, of course you've also, you have those other giants of the industry involved, but there are these smaller company... I just read this morning that Intuitive Machines has announced, uh, an October, 2021 launch. Uh-<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yeah.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> ... at least they intend to, to get their mission off. You know, could you talk about the role of these, these, uh, smaller companies. These... as part of, you know, what seems to be a pretty comprehensive program, uh, of... regarding our, our own natural satellite up there, the moon.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yeah, right. So I think, you know, we're, we're trying to take shots on goal. That's what this is all about.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [laughs].<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> We've gotta do two things. We, we need to get access to the moon. We need to get there soon. The sooner we can get there, the better. And we're gonna be able to do that with basically, uh, commercial landers that are gonna carry NASA payloads to the surface of the moon. And we're gonna characterize the, the, the Regulus. We're gonna do [00:28:00] experiments and we're going to see what works and what doesn't work. And we're gonna, we're gonna go with commercial providers. This program, the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. This was my first initiative as the NASA administrator. If we wanted to go fast, uh, and land on the moon for the first time since 1972, how would we do it?<\/p>

And so we put together a program to have commercial companies compete to go to the moon and carry NASA experiments and, and NASA payloads. And yes, we now have three companies. Masten is the most recent one. Um, and we're very proud of, of, of what they've been able to, to put together. But yes, we wanna take a shot on goal as early as next year, um, and see if we can make it happen.<\/p>

Um, but it's also true that when you have these kind of competitions... we, we now have three companies that are gonna be taking a shot on goal within the next two years. So, I think we're, I think we're in good, a good spot. And remember what we're doing is we're taking the knowledge that we're getting from these missions and we're [00:29:00] applying it to our eventual lunar lander for humans. So whether it's technology that we need to have developed or it's experiments that we need to have done, we need to characterize the regolith. How is the water embedded in the regolith? What is the best way to separate the water ice from the regolith? Extract it? Melt it? I think these are, these are very important concepts that we need to learn before we get the first humans there on the South pole. Uh, I should say the first humans since 1972.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Yeah.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Um, so these are very... We're very excited about these missions and I think they're gonna be groundbreaking.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> I, I... it'd be unfair if we didn't also mention Astrobotics, that other great, relatively small company-<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yes.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> ... that has the third of those contracts 'cause, uh, it's, uh, it's fascinating to see all three of these now in this... I won't call it a race, but in this effort to, uh, to head back-<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yeah.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> ... to the moon. I, I hope you got a couple more minutes here. I- I've just got a couple more-<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Yes.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> ... and I know your time is limited. Thank you. I wanna go back to commercial crew. As we speak [00:30:00] to Americans. Uh, Andrew Morgan, Jessica Meir are about to come home from the International Space Station. Are you hoping... could they be among the last to do this in a, in a Soyuz capsule?<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Oh no, uh, not at all. No, we want the partnership, uh-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Mmm.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> ... to go forward. Even though we have our own access to the International Space Station, it becomes a partnership. The goal is that our partners would launch with us, um, and we would launch with our partners. We would want to launch, you know, our crews with some of our cosmonaut, uh, partners. And, and then when, when Soyuz launches, we would wanna see Americans on those, on those Soyuz launchers as well.<\/p>

Remember, the International Space Station really has two major parts. That, one half of it is the U.S. segment and the other half of it is the Russian segment. So we wanna make sure that, that our crew and their crew are always present on the International Space Station. And so that requires that... u- us to continue to collaborate not just at the ISS, [00:31:00] but also getting to and from of the ISS. If only Americans launch on American rockets and only Russians launch on Russian rockets, we're gonna end up in a situation where the ISS's crew, exclusively by Americans or exclusively by Russians at certain points-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Mmm.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> ... in time. Uh, so we wanna make sure that the partnership goes forward, uh, but we also wanna make sure that it's not a dependency. That, uh, that we do have our own access, um, and that the partnership will remain strong.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> That makes me think of, uh, what seems to be increased, uh, international interest in the Artemis program. Back to that for a second. A- am I right about that and is that encouraging?<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Very much so. So right now, you know, we have had strong support from the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency. And when we talk about the European space agency, we're talking about 11 countries. That's a tough nut to crack, just politically with- within their own ranks. It's already been established that they're gonna [00:32:00] be part of what we call Gateway, which is basically a space station in orbit around the moon that will give us more access to more parts of the moon than ever before, not just the equatorial region, which is where we went during Apollo, but also we wanna, we wanna be able to get to the poles of the moon, which is where most of the water ice is.<\/p>

Gateway enables us to do that. Gateway enables us to have sustainability so that our, our human landers can go back and forth over and over again. They don't get thrown away. That drives down costs. It increases access. So it's really about more access to more parts of the moon. It's about sustainability, reusability and also developing the capabilities to go to Mars. That's what the Gateway is all about.<\/p>

And our international partners, you know, we have developed really an amazing relationship on the International Space Station. We wanna take all of that capability and use it for the Gateway. So we- we are very excited about the partners that are gonna be with us on the [00:33:00] Gateway. Some have already stepped up, others have not yet, uh, but, but we're certainly working with them so that when the time is right, they'll be able to on-ramp and be part of the international effort to sustainably go to the moon.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> You know, you just made me think of, uh, of something else that I, I hadn't thought about. You, you referred almost nonchalantly to the water at the poles of the moon, which of course, it wasn't that many years ago, we wondered if it was actually there in those, in those-<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> [crosstalk 00:33:28].<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> ... shadowed areas, and now it's like, \"Okay, we know it's there. We're gonna go check it out. We're gonna go taste it.\"<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Not, not just there, but hundreds of millions of tons of it-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Uh.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> ... uh, so much so we don't, we, we don't know how much there is, but it's a lot and so yes, it's, it's life support. It's air to breathe, it's water to drink. It's hydrogen and oxygen, which is rocket fuel. Look, there's other things on the moon, we don't know about right now. We think about all the asteroids that have impacted the earth, these quote rare earth metals that we know exist all over the [00:34:00] earth, in very trace amounts. Very important, very precious metals. Um, but the earth has a very thick atmosphere. Because of that, most of the asteroids never make it to earth. But guess what? They hit the moon, which is why-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [laughs].<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> ... it's so pop-marked. Um, there could be trillions of dollars of platinum group metals on the moon. We don't know. Um, the only way we're gonna know is if we get there and, and get underground and start figuring out what, what might be where. But I'm just saying, there's great opportunity out there, that I think, uh, that we need to start being more aware of and e- and explore.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Well, this of course brings up that question, which is, uh, risen again, uh, lately, uh, about who has the rights to those resources on the moon and elsewhere around the solar system. What do you think is the current status of that? I know, you know, not everybody, uh, is entirely in agreement.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> So I, you know, I was in the House of Representatives when this debate was going on, on the science committee and we passed a bill that [00:35:00] ultimately made sure that if you, if you discover and extract the resources on the moon or another celestial body, that you own those resources. If you apply your sweat, your equity, um, your investment into extracting those resources, you would own those resources. It doesn't mean that you have appropriated the moon for national sovereignty, which of course would be a violation of the Outer Space Treaty, but certainly, you can have the resources.<\/p>

So we look at other areas where this applies. We look at, for example, the ocean. People can extract resources from the ocean, whether you're fishing or, um, extracting energy. You don't own the ocean. The ocean is international. Um, nobody owns the ocean. But if you apply your effort and your investment to extracting resources, then you can own those resources. And I think that, that same model should apply to the moon. When we put that [00:36:00] into a bill in the House of Representatives, it got bipartisan support in the house, it got bipartisan support in the Senate and it was signed into law by President Obama. So I-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Mmm.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> ... think, I think that's a... it- it's a pretty well established international norm that I think applies to, to space resources as much as it applies to ocean resources.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Here's one from Leftfield and I don't know how much time you get to watch television, but are you, are you a fan either of the books or the television series, The Expanse?<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> I am not familiar.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Well, it, uh, it talks about a future... talks about a lot of stuff, but it is a future in which the resources of the solar system are, are being used commercially on a huge, huge scale, including, uh, harvesting asteroids for their water and, uh, and other resources. Uh, and, uh, our audience knows that I, I recommend it highly. Anyway, it's just a... it's an interesting vision of where you might just be headed.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> We will look out for that, for sure. I'll watch it or read it or, um, we'll look out for it.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [00:37:00] Ha. I got just one more for you. With so many challenges ahead and so much promise. What do you hope to see from the citizen fans of, of space exploration and development like the listeners to this show and, and of course members of The Planetary Society?<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> I think the big thing is, we need groups like The Planetary Society and others to be, to be active. It's not by accident that we're exploring space. The Apollo program, everything was driven by national security in those days. The, the great power competition between the Soviet Union and, and the United States. Since then, you know, our efforts have not been driven by competition but by cooperation. And we need to make sure that we have groups like The Planetary Society always engaged, always interested, get your friends involved, grow the base of the community that is necessary to support space exploration and the science and the discovery that goes along with it.<\/p>

I cannot tell you how important it is. You know, I used to be in Congress myself. [00:38:00] Uh, people come to The Hill, they talk about the great things that are being done and how important it is, but then they show members of Congress, here's what's happening in your district. And all of a sudden, eyes open up and people say, \"Wow, we need to make sure that continues.\"<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [laughs].<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Um, so I think, groups like The Planetary Society are important. I know that you do great work. I saw it firsthand when I was on The Hill and I, and I used the, um, the literature that The Planetary Society created in my arguments when I was in the House. And so I just... I think it's an important function. It's part of our unique nation where we get to petition our leaders for, you know, these activities and I think we should take advantage of it.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Well, thank you for that and I will pass that along to our colleagues, of course. Thank you also for, uh, coming back to Planetary Radio, uh, and for your leadership at, uh, at this difficult but, like I said, still very promising time. I mean, you know, the moon, Mars, the solar [00:39:00] system, the rest of the universe, they're not going anywhere. I guess they'll wait for us as we, deal with this virus. Uh, best of luck as you, uh, continue to lead the agency in, in this, uh, difficult time.<\/p>

James Bridenstine:<\/strong> Well, thank you so much Mat. It's always an honor.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> NASA administrator, James Bridenstine. Stay with us for Bruce and a new space trivia contest drawn from the administrator's personal history.<\/p>

Kate:<\/strong> Hi, this is Kate from The Planetary Society. How does space spark your creativity? We want to hear from you. Whether you make cosmic art, take photos through a telescope, write haikus about the planets, or invent space games for your family. Really, any creative activity that's space related. We invite you to share it with us. You can add your work to our collection by emailing it to us at [email protected]. That's [email protected]. Thanks.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Time for What's Up on Planetary Radio. Here's the chief scientist of The Planetary Society, also, uh, [00:40:00] author and now reader of his own works. You can find super cool space facts, which we've talked about on this show, actually gave away, on Audible at So, uh, so there, uh, that must've been a fun experience.<\/p>

Bruce Betts:<\/strong> It was, it was a little minor dream come true. Being, uh, Audible-obsessed, [laughing] and audiobook-obsessed. They actually asked to record my own, uh, audiobook. It was, was really... was super cool.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [laughs] How appropriate. I used to work for Audible, right when it started, a long, long time ago. I was a freelance, uh, book recorder and did other stuff for them. It was, it was fun. So it's just something else we have in common.<\/p>

Bruce Betts:<\/strong> Yeah.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> I know what else we have in common. The night sky.<\/p>

Bruce Betts:<\/strong> Ooh, good one.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [laughs].<\/p>

Bruce Betts:<\/strong> We do love that night sky and it is pretty, it's pretty with planets, uh, and the evening sky of course, super bright Venus still hanging out over there in the West and you can see on, on [00:41:00] or around April 20th, you can look, it's between the bright stars of Aldebaran in Taurus and Capella in Auriga. Makes kind of a nice line. Venus is of course, much brighter than the others, but it's fun to look for. And then in the pre-dawn East, you still have a lineup, uh, going from upper-right to lower-left of bright Jupiter and yellowish Saturn and reddish Mars. And uh, they're looking quite lovely in the pre-dawn. Uh, we've mentioned and people were excited about, uh, Comet Atlas. Well, it's... she's breaking up. She's breaking-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [laughs].<\/p>

Bruce Betts:<\/strong> Glad, I knew you'd get my '70s TV reference. Uh-<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Oh yeah.<\/p>

Bruce Betts:<\/strong> Yeah. So I mean it may get bright and ma- it's still possible, but it, it... there are at least couple observers, uh, that have noticed it seeming to break up as... is not totally unexpected. And there's another comet teasing [00:42:00] out there. So I'll keep you posted if any of these actually become bright. We move on to his week in space history. It was a, it was a big week in the early '70s, except for fashion.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> [laughs].<\/p>

Bruce Betts:<\/strong> Uh, in 1970, Apollo 13, after a wee bit of trouble, successfully landed back on earth. We've got a very nice page on that, on our website and new page about Apollo 13. And then in 1971, the Soviets launched Salyut 1, the first ever space station. And in '72, Apollo 16 successfully landed on the moon. We move on to [laughs] random space fact.<\/p>

Mat Kaplan:<\/strong> Crazy.<\/p>