Planetary Radio • Jun 04, 2021

Space Policy Edition: NASA's 2022 Budget Request Says "Yes"

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Casey Dreier

Chief of Space Policy for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

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

President Joe Biden's new budget proposal for NASA is very good, supporting nearly every major Planetary Society priority. It would fund science at record levels, maintain Artemis' 2024 lunar landing date, and make major investments in technology and education. Casey and Mat break down the details and discuss what's next for NASA as Congress takes up this request. They also explore the decision to fund two missions to Venus.

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VERITAS The VERITAS mission would map Venus with radar and infrared spectroscopy.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Artist's conception of DAVINCI+ probe descent stages
Artist's conception of DAVINCI+ probe descent stages Image: NASA / GSFC


Mat Kaplan: Welcome, everyone to the June 2021 Space Policy Edition. I am Mat Kaplan, the host of Planetary Radio. Joining me is our senior space policy advisor, the chief advocate for The Planetary Society, that's Casey Dreier. Welcome, Casey.

Casey Dreier: Hey Mat. Nice to be back. Happy June.

Mat Kaplan: Happy June to you, Casey. And happy commercial free Space Policy Edition. As I mentioned, just a couple of days ago, as we speak Planetary Radio is now commercial free, unless you count little public service announcements from The Planetary Society. The same is now true for Space Policy Edition. And so congratulations, Casey. We don't have anything to sell except ourselves.

Casey Dreier: I can't plug any MeUndies accounts or Casper mattresses anymore.

Mat Kaplan: No.

Casey Dreier: But [inaudible 00:01:04] for free.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Sorry. No more freebies, you'll have to pay for that mattress yourself. Yeah, that's where we are. And the significant thing about that everybody is, one, you asked for it. So we're glad to be able to meet that request. Two, it means we need your support more than ever. So I hope that you will go to or /donate, and thank us, if you're so inclined, for making this move, because we do not have external revenue coming in now for Planetary Radio. It's all on our members and donors to The Planetary Society. So we hope, we've always hoped that just having this available is enough to make you want to be a part of this great organization. And now we have even more reason to hope exactly that.

Casey Dreier: Think of it as a patreon, very specifically for us just by, we kind of advanced that model way back in the day, the member supported model. And again, I always say, and this is absolutely true, you can look at the numbers. We literally do depend on individuals to enable us to exist as an organization. It's always been that way since 1980. And so don't think that you can't make a difference at any level coming in. We really value that and it really makes financial and just a bigger picture difference to participate in the society. So I hope you do consider it to enable us to do shows like this where you can get this totally nerdy breakdown of the NASA '22 budget request from a person who, I have to say, in the last few days, read every page of that 951 page document all for you. All for you.

Mat Kaplan: Such a space geek. Well, folks, this is why I'm a member of The Planetary Society. I believe in what we're doing. And I believe that having somebody on staff who would sit down with those 900 pages and then get together with us to tell us all about what he found, that's why this is a worthy investment. We can leave it at that, but Casey, there is something else that we want to congratulate NASA for, and it just happened, well, two days before this program becomes available to all of you out there.

Casey Dreier: Oh, I know. This is a big deal for the long neglected sister planet of Earth, Venus, who now has two missions. They went from famine to feast in terms of missions here. NASA selected two discovery missions. This is the low-cost competed. So people had to propose mission ideas that were then evaluated through a very intense competition through science value engineering, viability, programmatic alignment. And at the end of the day, the two Venus proposals were selected. And now we're going to be seeing missions to Venus from NASA for the first time since Magellan, which launched in 1989 and wrapped up its mission in 1994.

Casey Dreier: So by the time they arrive, it will have been roughly 35 years ever since NASA had sent a dedicated mission to Venus. So this is a big deal and a big deal for the Venus community who has not had new in-situ data to work with from these exquisitely designed spacecraft that NASA makes for probably two generations of academic lifetime. So it's very exciting.

Mat Kaplan: We have a little clip, just a couple of minutes here from brand new NASA administrator, Bill Nelson, the former senator, from his state of NASA address that was delivered Wednesday, June 2nd. There's quite a bit more to it. You can find it online, of course, but here is where he actually announced the selection of VERITAS and DAVINCI+ as these next discovery class missions.

Bill Nelson: And I'm excited to break some big news today. Congratulations to the teams behind NASA's two planetary science missions, VERITAS, truth, and DAVINCI+. These two sister missions, both aimed to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world capable of melting lead at the surface, they will offer the entire science community the chance to investigate a planet we haven't been to in more than 30 years. In our solar system of the rocky planets, there's Mercury, closest to the sun. It has no atmosphere. Then there's Venus with an incredibly dense atmosphere, then there's Earth with a habitable atmosphere. And then there's Mars with an atmosphere that is just 1% of us.

Bill Nelson: We hope these missions will further our understanding of how Earth evolv and why it's currently habitable when others in our solar system are not. Planetary science is critical in answering key questions that we have as humans like, "Are we alone? What implications beyond our solar system could these two missions have?" This is really exciting stuff. And it's an emerging area of research for NASA.

Mat Kaplan: NASA administrator, Bill Nelson. I have already been in touch with the PIs for those missions James Garvin and Suzanne Smrekar. And they are both happy to come back on Planetary Radio. My hope is that I can get them to come on together because what we've been told Casey is that these missions will compliment each other. There's some synergy here.

Casey Dreier: They really will. And that's actually one of the reasons they selected both of them. This is a strategic, the policy side of this is really important. There are communities of interest within planetary science as a field, these subdisciplines. The scientists who have studied Venus using these decades old data now, they've been angling to get a Venus mission into the pipeline for years. This is not their first attempt. They've had previous proposals that have failed and they've become very strategic in how they propose both of these missions. That they didn't have overlapping science, they had complimentary science. That they had a team put together in the broader Venus community that everyone was behind these missions. They worked years and years and years to develop and refine these concepts, both these trace back to a proposed New Frontiers mission that would have integrated both aspects of this.

Casey Dreier: And so in a way, this is kind of a New Frontiers mission, that mid-size planetary science mission class split up into two smaller missions that then were both selected through a different funding line. That just shows that the dedication and perseverance of the Venusian science community has really paid off and they've worked hard for this. And so this isn't just some random selection. This is not an accident that we're seeing this today. This is the outcome of literally decades of work by the scientists here. I know that they're just elated to finally have new missions coming in the pipeline.

Casey Dreier: And just for context, I ran the numbers through the planetary exploration budget data set that we maintain here at The Planetary Society, in the entire history of NASA, NASA spent a year [inaudible 00:08:45], just for inflation to today's dollars. NASA has only spent about 3.7 or so billion dollars on its Venus missions ever, since 1958. You compare that to, something like Mars, where it's closer to 30 billion, about 28, $29 billion. You can see this, in a sense, the discrepancy of in terms of dollars as a proxy for political priority, Venus has just not had that. We've had other missions. Jackson has the Akatsuki mission. And then of course, Venus Express from ESA. And we've had other missions fly by Venus on the way to other places, but these are going to be top class studying the surface, atmospheric probe to detect phosphine. Now, we'll actually have an in-situ opportunity to follow up on that claim.

Mat Kaplan: That's from DAVINCI+, right?

Casey Dreier: And DAVINCI+ we'll do that. It's almost like, they're repeating Pioneer Venus and the 1978 mission was sent a number of probes to the atmosphere down to the surface. And then, very toss is going to be kind of an upgraded Magellan, which is going to map the surface at an extremely high, much higher resolution and be able to answer the fact that we'll have active volcanism still on Venus. In context, what's so fascinating about Venus is that it really fleshes out this range of terrestrial climates. The Goldilocks metaphor here is, Earth is the just right planet. Mars is the too cold planet. Small, is very thin atmosphere, dry and cold, nothing going on there.

Casey Dreier: And then Venus is the too hot, extreme, where you have too much atmosphere, too much heat. And then just toss in some sulphuric acid rain for good measure. And looking at these edge cases of Mars and Venus, help you bound your understanding of how to model and understand the evolution of climates on these terrestrial planets. And so it really helps us inform very directly our understanding of climate change here on earth by looking at these extremes of Mars and Venus. So Venus again was very understudied and now we will have two wonderful missions that will be going later this decade.

Mat Kaplan: Casey, as you were speaking, a message came in from your planetary scientist wife, she said, "Mars, nothing going on there? Tell Casey, I'll be talking with him about that."

Casey Dreier: Not maligning Mars. Mars is doing great. I love Mars, but it's balancing out the understanding. So Mars has the thin atmosphere, the cold planet, the very dry conditions, the too cold Goldilocks metaphor. And so, we talk about planetary science as a balanced program at NASA. And balanced can mean scientifically balanced, but it also means it's a balance of destinations. We've been unbalanced in our exploration of Venus. We act as if there's nothing more to learn there, but we've only sent a handful of missions, the Mariner 2, Mariner 5, and Pioneer Venus, and then Magellan. So four missions in NASA's history. Of course, we've had great missions from the Soviet Union over the years, and then other smaller missions looking at mainly the atmosphere of Venus from Japan and ESA, but it's a big complex planet, it's a complex system.

Casey Dreier: And I think that claim of detecting phosphine, one of the critiques of that claim was that they had a misunderstanding or a poor understanding of the atmospheric modeling that helped them interpret the data they were seeing from ground-based observations. And so to have better model and to have better data of how this planet works, setting the context of where life could potentially exist, that just helps us interpret all sorts of new data coming down in the future. I just want to explore everywhere, Mat, and I think I always have to admit my Mars bias through marriage, but I try to do a decent job of going beyond that.

Mat Kaplan: No worries. I am with you on all of that. And it is thrilling. And you just think of how far we have come in terms of sensing technology, in terms of spacecraft sophistication, since the days of Magellan and Pioneer. It does make me think though, back so far back to those Soviet Venera missions. And the amazing, still one of the greatest accomplishments in planetary exploration, I believe, that they were able to put those probes on the surface and have them manage to survive in those horrible conditions for some number of minutes and actually deliver pictures back from the surface of that world.

Mat Kaplan: Well, all right, we're finally going to be following up. I guess, we should also express some condolences because the selection of these two missions means the two others were eliminated and we'll have to wait for the next round for possible funding. And of course, the scores of other worthy missions, all of which, set out with the best of intentions and would have done terrific science. There just isn't enough money in the wallet to go around.

Casey Dreier: Yeah. Let's acknowledge Trident, which would have gone to Neptune's moon Triton really on a discovery class budget. That would have been the cheapest furthest out mission ever made. It would have been spectacular. And that's a moon that's had one fly by, by voyage or two back in the '80s. And that's it. And they saw geysers there. That was just this weird, amazing looking moon. This would have done a fly by of that. And then there was an IO volcanic Explorer that would have gone and mapped the surface of [inaudible 00:14:16]. Personally, I was hoping for that one, as well as one of the Venus missions, because [inaudible 00:14:23] is such an amazing, dramatic moon. And that mission I believe, has been proposed and considered at least one time before.

Casey Dreier: And I think also as a New Frontiers mission, it's not easy to go through this amount of work. To get to this last round of selection, each one of those mission teams has spent the last year, they get about 3 or $4 million from NASA to do very advanced studies. And then they're subjected to very rigorous review by external engineers who try to pick apart their designs, by the scientific community who tries to pick away at their scientific outcomes, "Can you deliver on your promises?" And that's a lot of work. And if you get to this final selection, any selection, any of those missions would be spectacular.

Mat Kaplan: These people, these teams have sunk years into these proposals.

Casey Dreier: Years of their lives, thousands of hours. So pouring out to the teams who didn't make it today because, it's not because they didn't have good missions. When is the next time we can try to get something to an outer planet, to Neptune or an ice giant? There's just nothing else in the pipeline now. So there's a lot still to explore that we just don't have the capability to do. Even though we are going to start learning a lot more about Venus, you can almost see this issue of the outer planets, very difficult to compete in these small mission classes, just by dent that they're so far away, takes so long to get there. How do you work in that cost envelope? So there's an issue here to work out in the long-term, but it's good to just acknowledge that with the selection, there's going to be people who didn't make it, and it's not because they didn't have good science.

Mat Kaplan: Someday, hope I'm around, hope we're both around to see Uranus and, or Neptune up close and those marvelous moons. Let's get to the major topic that we want to cover during this episode of the Space Policy Edition. It's that wallet that I mentioned, which has the opportunity, at least for NASA to become a little bit fatter based on the budget, the PBR, that we just had revealed by the White House. And you have gone through this, like you said, all 900 pages. There is a wonderful new piece that you have written, that everybody can read at, which will provide much more detailed than we can cover here. What are your impressions? Who are the winners and losers? I take it, more winners than losers.

Casey Dreier: Yeah, Mat, well, let's just set the context for those who don't remember, that the PBR, the president's budget requests is the formal White House policy document that's submitted on behalf of NASA that would say, "This is the White House's ideal case for funds from Congress to fund the space program this year," and then they project five years into the future. So this will change. This has to go through the congressional process, but we talked about this before on the show, this doesn't change as much as you'd think. This is in the context of a much larger budget request of the entire federal government.

Casey Dreier: And the amount of interest on NASA is going to really vary based on the congressional committees that approve this particular section. Very small program lines, unless they're high profile programs, generally, don't get a ton of attention from Congress. And so, even though the overall contours may change a bit on the edges or some big flashy programs may or may not get funded, this still sets the direction at a very profound level for a lot of the space agency. So this is an important document to understand, if nothing else to say, "This is where the White House is coming from on the space program in the United States right now." So that context, what are we looking at here in terms of overall impressions?

Casey Dreier: Mat, I've been doing this awhile now, like 10 years reading through these NASA budget documents. I have to say, this is probably one of the most pleasing budget proposals that I have read in my lifetime. It's just really demonstrates two things, I think. One is, it has a lot of continuity. So this is the first proposal from the Biden administration coming out of the Trump administration, obviously, running NASA, and very little massive changes, very little in the way of fundamental restructuring things. That's actually a really good sign for allowing NASA to continue the work that it's doing in returning to the Moon and all of these other programs. The other thing, this is the least annoying budget that I've read. This was kind of a feature of the Trump administration budgets, where they had a lot of really good things.

Casey Dreier: Last year they proposed this 12% increase to NASA, lots of new money for RMS, and it was really exciting. But then at the same time, they canceled a bunch of really, canceled Earth Science Missions, canceled the STEM outreach program, canceled the Roman Space Telescope, the follow-on to James Webb. And it's just like, "Why make Congress mad doing those?" Because you know that the Congress will come back and support those ultimately at the end of the day. And so they're just frustrating documents sometimes. This budget from the Biden administration lacks pretty much all of that frustration. It is a sea of green in terms of growth just across the board. It includes some of these numbers in the post on, but let's just tick through the big ones.

Casey Dreier: The proposed funding for NASA is $24.8 billion. That's a 6.6% increase over the previous year's enacted level from Congress. If this request goes through at that level, it would be NASA's best budget since the mid-1990s, if you adjust for inflation. It's the second highest request, not counting last year's request from the Trump administration, would be the second highest request in that same amount of time. It almost gets you to where that request was last year. So even as we didn't make it to 25 billion last year, this gets us really, really close to that.

Casey Dreier: Science sees a 9% increase. As Bill Nelson has stated, this is the largest request for science in NASA's history. That's true. Within that, there is a stunning, spectacular, absolutely breathtaking number for planetary science at $3.2 billion. If that goes through, that will be planetary sciences' best budget since the mid-1960s at the peak of the Apollo program, when they were building all of those lunar landers and observers. That is a spectacular budget. That's a 18% increase. And that funds so many of the priorities here at The Planetary Society. Mars Sample Return, they're going for 2026. They're asking for over $600 million to go for the 26th launch opportunity. That's huge.

Casey Dreier: It funds NEO Surveyor, a planetary defense dedicated space telescope that we've talked about for years here. It is in this budget. Half a billion dollars for this aggressive and expansive Lunar Exploration Program that is leveraging the private sector to deliver lunar instruments through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services. The VIPER Rover that is going to land on the South Pole of the Moon and look for volatiles. It also funds a plethora of small satellites, experimental satellites, deep space, SmallSats, and CubeSats. And it also funds every single operating mission.

Casey Dreier: So we have no Mars missions being canceled this year. We have no missions to Jupiter being canceled. Every mission continues into the future. It is a just a wonderful budget. And again, as someone who really began their career at this point of very rapid and frightening contraction of the planetary science field, this is manna from heaven. This is just such a turnaround in the space of 10 years. I'm so delighted, delighted to see this great budget for planetary science. It's just everything, they just said yes. And they're really leaning into this exciting set of missions coming up. And so they have a lot of things, Europa Clippers in there.

Casey Dreier: The only things missing, and this is, I think, indicative of how ambitious the planetary science program is right now is that even with $3.2 billion, they are still oversubscribed. This still includes a delay of the next New Frontiers mid-class mission by a few years. This still includes, we just selected two discovery missions, they will not launch until later in the decade because they're going to have to keep their budgets in cold storage, initially, take it slow start to them because there isn't enough money to really have them peak at the same time in the middle of the decade. This is because big projects like Europa Clipper still need to finish and launch, big projects like Mars Sample Return still need to launch. And then of course, this Lunar Discovery and Exploration is trying to be timed with Artemis missions happening in the mid-2020s.

Casey Dreier: It's still a constricted budget to some degree, but that's only because they're running these massive, ambitious, exciting missions of exploration. So it's a good problem to have ultimately, but it's just a lot going on for planetary science. It is just exciting to see.

Mat Kaplan: I can't help, but think, the constant encouragement and information that has been provided by The Planetary Society to Congress, the work that you and others, our colleagues at the society do, I'm almost embarrassed to say it, but I think it's pretty clear that the society has had some influence in all of this. Certainly, there are many other factors involved, but we have been a very strong voice for so many years, long before even you and I got here, right from the start, for the value of planetary science. And so here it is. So I think that this is a bit of a victory lap for you Casey and for The Planetary Society as well.

Casey Dreier: I'll take that, Mat. I think that's true. We've worked with the science community and we've made this case in a consistent way for as long as I've been here with the society now. And when you build that consistency, when you keep that focus, you help change, I think we've had, a see change in people's attitudes about the value of planetary science and its contributions to the nation, to the world, to inspiration to people, to technology development, to just this exploratory science, this area where we just don't get much of any more. It's not applied science. This is pure exploration, checking out new places where we can dig, literally, no one has ever tried before. It's very exciting to see. And it's again, it's just delighted to see this.

Casey Dreier: I want to highlight a few other examples of positive things though, outside of planetary science, earth science is seeing its first big proposed increase since the end of the Obama administration. So earth science, ultimately never was cut during the Trump administration, even though they always proposed to do so by about 15 to 20%, Congress always restored it. Now, we're seeing the opposite or science has proposed to grow by about 12 and a half percent to 2.25 billion. They're proposing an ambitious new set of integrated earth science missions coming forward beginning next year, and then continuing through the 2020s. So that's the start of growth that will continue to occur over the next few years. Every mission that has been proposed to cancel in the past is again funded. And you also see new investments in earth science research. It's a very nice budget for earth science, it's a very welcome for the earth science community as well.

Casey Dreier: And again, you will see that budget continue to grow. They projected to grow up to $2.7 billion a year by 2026. Another very positive thing, again, not canceled in this as the Roman Space Telescope, the follow-on for the James Webb, originally known as W-FIRST. That is funded, it is, again, no longer going to be a battle to restore that funding every year. It's about half a billion for that. Let's move now to Artemis. So the Artemis program, it doesn't have quite the wild levels of growth proposed under the Trump administration, but it continues growth. We've talked about this earlier. Obviously, it proposes to fund a single selection for the human landing system, the SpaceX selection. The budget acknowledges that this is on hold until the government accountability office ways the challenges to this contract award which should be resolved by August. But it still grows that budget up to $1.2 billion for human landing system development for the SpaceX grant.

Casey Dreier: So it's not small amounts of money. And then that continues that growth over the years, anticipating that it will begin to also award servicing contracts to the lunar surface through not just SpaceX, throughout other potential providers. So that's where mainly, most of the growth happens to be in the Human Exploration Directorate is through that. Very healthy funding for the Gateway space station, very healthy funding for SLS this year. I think a notable change in this budget. And I wonder, kind of speculating, if this is the Bill Nelson influence, the Block 1B version of the SLS, this upgraded Exploration Upper Stage configuration, NASA is no longer fighting that.

Casey Dreier: So during the Trump administration, they tried to defer development of the Block 1B version. Almost every single year, they said, because they could use the original Block 1 does what it needed to do to get [inaudible 00:28:00] to the Moon. The Block 1B can deliver more payload along with [inaudible 00:28:04]. It's a much more beefy Upper Stage. It's something that NASA had fought for a while, but now, it is enshrined in this budget. Nelson helped literally write the SLS into law. I can't help, but wonder if this is a shift of policy within NASA really now just embracing this opportunity, which by the way, Congress, at least a subset of very influential members of Congress have been eager to fund this additional Upper Stage for the SLS.

Casey Dreier: So the SLS is firmly entrenched and continues to be so, along with all of its associated ground systems, mobile launcher 2 for the upgraded Block 1B version is all built into this budget now. This continues that trend of what we saw in science. It's creating far fewer areas of friction between the White House and Congress. It is funding the things that knows Congress will fund and it's asking for things that the White House wants to do at the same time. We'll see how this works out politically, but this seems to me is kind of a smarter move to not antagonize the people who have to approve everything else. Good set for that.

Casey Dreier: Other big areas of growth we saw was in Space Exploration Technology. This is the Space Technology Mission Directorate within NASA that invest in this game-changing important future development that needs to be worked out in order to incorporate it into missions that grows by about 30% in this proposed budget, mainly to fund additional applied technology demonstrations including surface nuclear power on places like the Moon, but notably for us, not any nuclear power for propulsion. That is not included in this budget. Aeronautics grow some. STEM Engagement, which is an area that had been proposed to be cut entirely by the Trump administration sees growth by about 16% in this proposal, mainly for space-grant, which is a very popular congressional program because it distributes cash to literally every state in the union and in the territories, is then used to fund small grants for educators, for students working on space projects, for rocket clubs and the like.

Casey Dreier: And so you see growth in there and also growth for the program that's meant to focus on underserved and minority populations in the country to get them integrated into STEM and space as well. So again, very little to complain about in this budget, growth, pretty much everywhere. The things on my table that show red, that show a shrinking budget are happening naturally through the project development cycle. So the James Webb Space Telescope budget goes down because it's planned to launch. We don't need to develop it anymore. So that's a good thing. The Roman Space Telescope goes down very slightly just because it's working through its development cycle. It doesn't need as much money as it did last year. Very good news.

Mat Kaplan: Couple of things, just to add to this, I mean, I'm going to start with STEM that you already talked about, STEM Engagement, which I think it's significant that the administrator thought that that was important enough to include in his state of NASA address in which he also talked about how the world, not just the United States feels about NASA, which is, I know something that you feel very strongly about and you've called NASA, and so has Bill and I, the best brand that the United States has. And there seem to be great recognition of that in the administrators' statement.

Casey Dreier: Bill Nelson is so far a divisive administrator, at least for some people on Twitter. If you don't like the Space Launch System, you probably don't like Bill Nelson, but I find him very fascinating as a character because you can see the value of having a politician running NASA whose job it is basically to sell itself to politicians.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah. We saw this with Jim Bridenstine, who of course also got a lot of criticism when he got the appointment.

Casey Dreier: Exactly. Right. And when you really think about it, do you want someone who's an expert in navigating with other elected officials, or do you want a person who has no experience trying to do that for the first time representing the entire space program? They're the administrator. They're not the scientist of NASA. They're not the astronaut of NASA. They're the administrator. It kind of makes sense that they'd want to be good at that job. And they don't necessarily have to have a very strong technical background because they're not making the trade study decisions. They have people to help them with that. Though, of course, Bill Nelson has flown in space. He is an astronaut. Seeing him lean into these areas that had been canceled by the Trump administration, but also under Obama had been proposed to be cut back pretty significantly. The STEM education outreach program shows, I think, again, it's a slightly savvier approach to working with his ultimate customers, which are members of Congress.

Casey Dreier: And so it's a very popular program. And also I think he gets why that is at a more big picture level. Like, "Do you want to invest in building..." This is an investment in the country at a very deep and profound levels. This is a human infrastructure.

Mat Kaplan: Exactly.

Casey Dreier: I think that's right.

Mat Kaplan: Exactly.

Casey Dreier: And there are ways to improve, I think the efficacy of STEM, outreach and education, but proposing to slash it entirely, is just one of those PR problems that, why are you fighting that as opposed to talking about the positive things that NASA is doing. And this is, again, a relatively small amount of money in the big picture of what NASA is spending, it's smart politics. And so I think you see again, that the value that Bill Nelson's going to bring, this is the same thing that you saw when he was testifying before his first congressional committee on the upcoming budget was just how adept he was at responding to inquiries from the elected officials, the members of Congress.

Casey Dreier: He never was aggressive back. There was never a confrontational response. It was always an accommodating response. You can see that those decades of political experience already being deployed. And I think this will ultimately be very valuable for NASA as an institution. It does so many things. That even if you don't like some of the things that it does, if it continues to have the resources, it can do those and the things you like to. And that's the ultimate example of political compromise.

Mat Kaplan: Anybody who wants a second really good argument for space being something that is really infrastructure, listen to last week's May 26th episode of a Planetary Radio. And my conversation with Grant Tremblay who makes a terrific argument as he talks about the new great space observatories. Casey, I want to go back to your mention of the Human Landing System, which as you said, there're some, little bit of controversy about right now, but this tremendous increase, the biggest percentage increase 41% of any of these items that you broke out in the president are in this PBR, that's pretty significant, isn't it? I mean, speaking of continuity.

Casey Dreier: Yeah. And I think maybe something that I should emphasize here, which is notable really, when you think about it. And frankly, a bit surprising to me is that this budget proposal, which remember from the White House, this is effectively a policy statement. This is still all in on 2024. They have not decided to push this back, this landing attempt. So the money that they're putting into, they are ramping up for Human Landing System to try to make this '24 deadline. The biggest difference that you from the Trump request from last year is that this is an increase to 1.2 billion, which is not a small amount of money to spend in one year. The Trump administration had requested three and a half, anticipating multiple providers getting billions of dollars at once.

Casey Dreier: So in a sense, you're seeing the savings from SpaceX's selection, but at the same time, still making this big investment broadly through the agency and support of a '24 system. So it's a much more in a sense refined. They're going all in on the SpaceX selection, but it's still, again, it's not like a shy thing to do. It's not modest what we're doing here. This is spending 1.2 billion in '22, 1.3 billion in '23. And it actually keeps ramping up over time anticipating that it will not just be buying the development of one, but ongoing services to the lunar surface, which can be provided by SpaceX or another provider if they want to compete on that second contract. And so this is, again, as you pointed out, just a great sign of continuity. And they are not fundamentally reassessing this entire program and starting from zero, which is a lot of people's fears. And this is again, what's, I think so exciting. And I will keep saying this about how exciting this decade is going to be stepping back from this document.

Casey Dreier: I'm not exactly a jaded old space policy guy yet. I've had moments of feeling that over the last 10 years, but damn man, this is so cool. There's so many exciting and amazing missions that are being built right now. Things are actually happening. This Moon thing is happening. They're making a real go at this. Artemis is happening. Space Launch System is happening. Human Landing System is happening. Gateway is happening. Then all of these crazy missions, going to Europa is happening. Mars Sample Return, happening. James Webb Space Telescope, happening, W-FIRST. Then you only have all these crazy, you have an in-space servicing missions, SPIDER. You have Laser Communication Demonstration happening to communicate at really high bandwidth in space. You have all these weird experimental Cubesats and the Lunar Flashlight, solar sail.

Casey Dreier: You have Commercial Lunar Payload being delivered. Dozens of new instruments landing on the surface of the Moon starting next year. It's hard to wrap your head around how many things are happening at the space program. And it's just that, this will all be happening in the next 10 years. And this budget continues that investment to make sure these are going to happen. So it's just wild to see this ambition, this optimism that these are going to be pulled off and that you have the buy-in in contrast to the 2010s where you had as constant conflict between the White House and Congress about what the priorities were, which always just bogged things down.

Casey Dreier: This is an alignment that began with the Trump administration and has now seems to continue with the Biden administration. There is an alignment between the White House and Congress about where the investments should be going and what NASA should be doing. You're going to see the benefits of that because there's going to be less friction between these two entities that control the space program.

Mat Kaplan: I bet like me, you would take a 2025 or 2026, human Moon landing, right Casey?

Casey Dreier: If they want to push it back two years, that's fine. I will take people flying around the Moon on Artemis 2. I have never been alive to see people leave Earth orbit. Most people in the world have not seen that. So just the fact that they do that in '23 is a huge deal, right? That out? And I was reading through, again, their plans for Gateway. The European Space Agency has signed on to provide all these additional modules for the Gateway, including basically the equivalent of a [Cupola 00:39:50]. The equivalent on the space station of a window, a 360 degree view window that will show, it says in the budget, basically, something like, "We'll show constant stunning views of the Moon and incoming spacecraft to the Gateway."

Casey Dreier: Thinking about that for a second of floating there at the Moon, with the Moon just slowly rotating below you watching the starship slowly creep towards you carrying people and then you'll get on to go to... It's just fantastic. I've read a lot of NASA budgets and it's in history, its entire history, going back to the '70s and '80s and '60s. There's a lot of future tense here, "Such and such will happen. Such and such we'll do. Such and such we'll launch." There will be complications to these things. It's very ambitious now, very complex set of things, very tightly integrated, tightly coupled program that they're building here, probably won't happen in '24 still, but it's not unreasonable, again, '25, '26, this decade, that this can happen.

Casey Dreier: And so, seeing it all there, and even watching Bill Nelson's broad overview and the videos that they showed of everything happening at NASA, it's just, it's an agency that is hitting its stride. It's getting the resources it needs and it's going to just do these just absolutely stunning missions that are going to make us proud in a sense. And just like this energy, I'm just not used to seeing. This new energy coming in from the commercial. There's so much stuff with commercial sector coming in that are resonating and building from these investments made by the public sector, all sorts of new types of technologies, the types of science we're going to be seeing. It's just all these pistons are firing. It's a very exciting time.

Casey Dreier: And I should mention that this, the Biden proposal, stretching out into the future is anticipating continued growth in the space program. So it doesn't stop at $24.8 billion next year. Ultimately, they see it growing by about, a few percent per year, going up to about 27 billion by 2026. Lot's going to happen between now and then, but it's a growth mindset. And that is, I think really critical to that. It helps keep pace with inflation that helps allow growth and very types of programs to exist and hit their peak cost points and then allow others to come in. It's just so important that they're doing this. And again, I think that you see politically a lot of support across the aisle for this to happen as well. And that's going to be very, very important should the political fortunes for the Democratic Party change in the upcoming midterm elections in '22, or even the presidential elections in '24.

Casey Dreier: So, again, keeping this bipartisan nature, which Bill Nelson is perfectly cast to do. He is known for doing that, will also help this succeed despite the larger amount of politics.

Mat Kaplan: And of course, there's year-over-year increase also something that The Planetary Society has been advocating for, for many years. I want to acknowledge the strong impression. Really, it was a reinforcement of the impression that I got about Bill Nelson, this new administrator, not surprising, astronaut, longtime supporter as a senator of space exploration, space development, but he's a true believer, much like the man he has replaced Jim Bridenstine. He really feels what our boss calls, the passion, beauty and joy. And I think that was clear throughout the state of NASA address that he delivered.

Casey Dreier: Yeah. And that's an intangible that I think, you want someone in the job who wants to be there and that's going to come through. That will be also relayed to the president and getting the president's buy-in and having that close working relationship, which Bill Nelson, as a former senator, as president, as a former senator have, can only pay off. It's a very good relationship to have. And even if it doesn't hit your individual idea of what the best NASA administrator can be, he's good for the situation that we have, I think, in terms of his relationships and his personal interests and his ongoing commitment. And as he said, you can really tell he does care about this.

Mat Kaplan: What more could you hope for?

Casey Dreier: Yeah. I think, NASA is in a very good position. That we have so much potential for this decade. This budget is a very good step. So let's talk about next steps real quick as we wrap this up today. This is the proposal. Congress needs to act on it. Congress needs to deliver and approve what's proposed here. So overall, I think the increase is six and a half percent, very much in line with the average. I think the average has been in the last seven years, something like 4% per year, this is in line with that. So it's achievable.

Casey Dreier: It has, as I said, focused on areas that Congress has already shown a lot of support for, the Roman Space Telescope, STEM Education, SLS, and planetary science. In a sense, there's not going to be a lot of challenge to this at the congressional level. The question will be, this is proposed under a $6 trillion budget proposal. That is a very big spending proposal relative to previous years. Will Congress be able to pass overall that much spending? So NASA is not the only agency that's seeing increases, the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy. Basically, everything is seeing various types of increases.

Casey Dreier: So what will Congress have the stomach to actually spend, and then once they set their own cap, how much will be left to fund these increases in NASA? And that's uncertain. We no longer have these self-imposed budget caps of sequestration going back to the 2012 legislation. We're past that now. So the Congress has more flexibility to set overall spending amounts. Politically, there's going to be a fight about it. Democrats do run the Senate and the house with a very slim margins, but they do run it. You cannot filibuster spending legislation. So that to me suggests there's a likely, increases can be likely. There's going to be a bit of horse trading, and I think the biggest question is going to be whether NASA will be allowed to maintain a single selection for the Human Landing System.

Casey Dreier: We're seeing this coming through separate legislation now that would mandate NASA select a second provider. It would authorize, but critically not actually give the money appropriate, an additional $10 billion over the next five years, but then if that's the case, even if they do appropriate it, does that mean we don't see the same increases that would otherwise have gone to the science missions, that would otherwise have gone to space technology, that would otherwise go to Gateway or other parts of Artemis. So selecting another Human Landing System would add a burden of many additional billions of dollars on NASA that it doesn't necessarily need that burden right now, if it wants to keep doing all of these other things. That is the tension that will be moving forward.

Casey Dreier: I think the worst case scenario, probably the most likely scenario, is that NASA gets the mandate, but gets no extra money to do it. And of course there goes your lunar landing deadline. So the other areas I think are pretty likely to happen. I think there's not a lot of pushback on these areas in planetary science or earth science optically with Democratic Party running the Congress. So I think what you're seeing is the real fight is going to be in this Human Landing System. And then whether that places an undue burden on the rest of the budget.

Casey Dreier: This will be happening over the next few months. Congress is running behind in terms of its appropriations process. We have yet to see any proposal from the House of Representatives where that usually starts. Then the Senate will do its own version. And then at some point, ideally before September 30th, the end of the fiscal year, they will have a compromise legislation that they'll vote on, very unlikely to happen. That has historically now tends to happen closer to Christmas after some temporary extension funding. And so, this is the start of this longer process that we'll be following here for the next six or seven months.

Mat Kaplan: And we will be following it. You'll be able to follow it through Casey and elsewhere at And certainly here in the Space Policy Edition. And Casey, I hope that you will be making periodic visits to the weekly Planetary Radio as well.

Casey Dreier: Oh Mat, you know I'm happy, anytime.

Mat Kaplan: Of course. Thank you for all this great work as always Casey. And thank you to all of you out there who are members of The Planetary Society who have helped us advocate for what we see is this, at least at this stage, a tremendous success in the funding of NASA, in the funding of a space exploration in the United States of America. If you are not one of those, you certainly have the opportunity to join our happy band at Become a member of The Planetary Society and help us turn this proposed budget into a real future for NASA and space exploration.

Casey Dreier: Always happy to do a classic budget rundown, particularly when its good news. This is way more fun than a few years ago. We were going back and forth. Have to savour this. This is a good feeling.

Mat Kaplan: Casey Dreier is the senior space policy advisor and chief advocate for The Planetary Society. I'm Mat Kaplan, I hope you will join us next week. A new weekly Planetary Radio episodes become available every Wednesday morning. And we've got some great stuff coming up for you there as well. The Space Policy Edition will, yes, return on, we think the first Friday in July. I believe it's July 2nd, but we may have something special for you before then, a special guest that Casey will be welcoming back. And we hope to be able to present that to you while we're still in the month of June. More about that, stay tuned. We'll certainly announce it on the weekly show as well. For now, thank you very much for joining us once again, and ad astra everyone.