How spacefaring nations prioritize funding can be just as important, if not more so, than the capabilities of the commercial sector, says Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, President and CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration. She joins the show to talk how these complement each other, and why the SLS and Orion programs deserve support along with work by companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. Mat and Casey also catch up on the dizzying amount of space news in July, including important progress on NASA’s budget from the U.S. House of Representatives.
Mat Kaplan: Welcome back to the Space Policy Edition of Planetary Radio. We have lots to talk about today and a lot to celebrate as well, and we will hold that celebration with the senior space policy advisor for the Planetary Society, our chief advocate. Welcome back Casey, Casey Dreier.
Casey Dreier: Hey Mat, happy August.
Mat Kaplan: Happy August. We actually do have some things to be happy about that have just taken place in the last couple of days and some major successes things that I think a lot of people can be proud of. We're going to get to that first, though, our usual pitch for you to go to planetary.org/membership and become a part of this podcast and everything else that the Planetary Society is up to by joining us, joining our little planetary science, space science, space exploration family, and become a member, planetary.org/membership. The place to go. Casey, I think you still have an advocacy campaign going on as this is published.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, there's still time. If you go to planetary.org/advocacy, there's a link to take you to a donation page. We're almost to our goal of a $100,000, and a reminder that every dollar that you donate up to that amount gets matched so effectively doubles your donation. So now's a great time to do it as we hit the finish line here. So please consider if you can, throwing us a few bucks to enable us to do this great work on your behalf here at the Planetary Society.
Mat Kaplan: And by the way, even if that deadline is reached and that goal is reached as we hope it will be-
Casey Dreier: You can still give us money.
Mat Kaplan: You can sure can.
Casey Dreier: Don't worry. We're a nonprofit. Remember we need this.
Mat Kaplan: Most of our best supporters are also members of the Planetary Society. All right, we'll keep that short because we do have a lot of good news to talk about and we have a great interview to share with you. Casey, just give us a bit of a tease for your guests today.
Casey Dreier: Mary Lynne Dittmar, is somebody who I've wanted to have on the show for a long time and was really excited when she was able to make this work, to have this discussion today, she works for the industry group called the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration. She really works with the big, I'd say prime, aerospace contractors, but she's been involved in space flight policy for years. So she is very knowledgeable about this stuff. And has this deep record of working with the ISS. She's worked on the committee side, working for things like the national academies, in the space research board, national research society. She has one of those professional biographies that stretches many pages.
Casey Dreier: So it's, I think an interesting perspective that we talk about in terms of, what is the value of some of these large national programs? Specifically the SLS and Orion as seen from a national perspective. And I think this is an interesting kind of counterpoint to a lot of the perspective that we tend to hear on those programs, as being either a waste of money or slow or very frustrating for a lot of people. And she really presents this kind of robust flipped perspective of this from kind of the geopolitical angle about why these are important efforts and why they're still relevant, even with things like SpaceX and other new entrants into the field of space exploration.
Casey Dreier: I think it's a really important viewpoint to hear, even if you don't ultimately agree with it, because it's something that is widely held, particularly at the higher levels of Congress and the political system that at least here in the United States and similar ideas and other nations around the world as well. So a very interesting interview with her. And again, she's just a very insightful, thoughtful mind in space policy and has been doing it for a long time.
Mat Kaplan: It's a great conversation. I was monitoring it of courses as you spoke with her, it is in itself a civics lesson, at least portions of it, which in fact, she will make a reference to that, you'll hear her. She does some of her public outreach and people you might think would already be aware of how the federal government works and how all representational government seems to work in this country. And it ain't a bad thing. All right, we'll be getting to that shortly. But first let's celebrate a little bit. Casey, you must've been watching that splashdown of Crew Dragon Endeavour, weren't you?
Casey Dreier: I saw, yes, I just got back from a bike ride just in time to see them land and the crazy thing of seeing all the boats swarm around them. They landed maybe closer to a recreational boating area than humans have in a long time, which was kind of a weird scene to see, but so glad that they came back safe and just an amazing mission from SpaceX. You forget that this was the first test of this whole program and it just went so smooth. So obviously really exciting, really looking forward to the first four person launch coming up in a few months here up to the station and seeing these begin to happen on a regular basis. Just spectacular sight to see.
Mat Kaplan: Now let's clarify first test with real humans.
Casey Dreier: With humans. Yes.
Mat Kaplan: Inside.
Casey Dreier: Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Because it was DM-1 of course. You mentioned those boats and I'm sure some people out there have not yet heard the regular Planetary Radio episode that appeared this week a couple of days ago. And I've talked to astronaut and former director of space operations at SpaceX, Garrett Reisman. And he said, really, everything went perfectly. It was white knuckle time for him as he watched because he oversaw so much of the development of Dragon, both cargo and crew versions. The thing that he felt was the biggest problem, were all those boats, because it could have been very dangerous for the astronauts. If there had been a problem in the capsule and it could have been very dangerous for the people in the boats speaker, you probably heard the anchor people at SpaceX talking about how they go in with special suits and they sniff the air for fumes from those hypergolic fuels.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. This tetroxide.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Extremely dangerous. And so apparently, Garrett, told us that the SpaceX has been talking with the Coast Guard and that will not happen again if they have anything to say about it, but let's go back to this actual success and something else that Garrett, and I talk about. And you've talked about many times, which is that there are a lot of heroes in this story at SpaceX, but some of them are outside of SpaceX and were or are in the federal government.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, none of this would have happened without NASA and NASA officials and White House officials starting with George W. Bush administration and then really getting turbocharged under Obama, choosing to pursue a new way to do business in space. SpaceX obviously really stepped up and just hit it out of the park doing this, but it required good policy for this to happen and was not taken lightly. It was not an easy thing to achieve this situation. Politically there was a lot of resistance from members of Congress, who saw their existing kind of comfortable setups and funding and jobs in their districts, threatened by this new entrant and new way of disruption that would just kind of throw them off their kind of expected situation. We talked about this, but it really came down to the NASA authorization bill in 2010, that authorized the Commercial Crew Program to move forward while kind of the deal was at the time that you do, basically you do both, you do the new commercial partnership method and you make the space launch system and you continue making the Orion capsule.
Casey Dreier: So they kind of did an all of the above approach. And that is how you build coalitions in politics. But because of that, we are at this moment now in SpaceX delivered once they had the opportunity to do it, but you have to give new people the opportunity to succeed in order to see anything new in space. So it was a very exciting day and a reminder that this stuff doesn't just happen by magic. And even if Elon Musk, had wanted to do this by himself, he couldn't have, because he needed NASA's cooperation and NASA needs SpaceX now just as much. So it's a very close partnership, but it takes two to tango. So they say.
Mat Kaplan: So kudos to everyone involved inside and outside of SpaceX. And sure looking forward to that next, the first real operational mission coming up, I believe in the fall with, as you said, four astronauts on it. I won't say that SpaceX topped itself because after all it was just a hop, not a top, but we did see it's a great piece of video that Starship take to the sky.
Casey Dreier: Also, an incredible moment, just a couple of days after landing does SpaceX engineers get any sleep. I kept thinking of the... I don't know, for those of you who remember Apollo 13, when they go visit Jim Lovell's mother in the care facility, and they say that something's gone wrong with the spaceship. And she said, Oh, well, if they could make a washing machine fly, my Jimmy could land it. And it really kind of felt like watching a washing machine or something as in elegant go up and down. But also just incredible when you just look at the scale of it. And again, you see perfect example of how Starship is being developed. The iterative process that SpaceX takes with its development, iterative and hardware. It's a very big difference to something like the SLS, which we'll talk about with Mary Lynne Dittmar, which a lot of that is done in advance through ongoing analysis and tests.
Casey Dreier: And it's a very different type of it, somewhat more conservative approach to engineering. SpaceX tries to make the thing, if it blows up, they just make another one, because the critical aspect of this is that while they're developing the process to make a Starship, they're also trying to develop the process to make a production line of the Starship. So they need to get good at building these fast because that's a critical part to success. And so both the willingness to kind of just test out in the open, to accept failure and to rapidly build a new one, it hits both the production line and the fundamental technology development needs of that program. So again, just kind of classic SpaceX method here. And of course, when you see it happen, it's a pretty wild scene to see. And it's just very cool.
Mat Kaplan: I have to quote one of our colleagues at the Planetary Society who said, it looked like a flying water heater. We promise it'll look much better once it has a real nose cone and a lot more engines. And I'm looking forward to that. And if these successes continue, maybe it won't be too long. So yeah, at least a couple of reasons for SpaceX to celebrate this week. And one of the celebrants is a well known for tweeting about things like this. I had not seen the tweet until you sent it to me, Casey, happens to be from the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. Here's the tweet. And when we say today, I'm talking about Wednesday, by the way, August 5th. NASA was closed and dead until I got it going again. Now it is the most vibrant place of its kind on the planet. And we have Space Force, to go along with it. We have accomplished more than any administration in first three and a half years. Sorry, but it all doesn't happen with sleepy Joe. You think it's an election year, Casey.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. Not exactly the type of tweet I'd like to see from the political side of a president about space. And obviously there's a number of things factually incorrect about that. NASA existed three and a half years ago at 17,000 people work there. They were actively working on the Commercial Crew Program and missions like, Mars Perseverance. And of course, SpaceX was doing its own completely separate development process for Starship. That does not depend on NASA.
Mat Kaplan: All that stuff that we talk about on Planetary Radio every week, much of which NASA has been responsible for in the last more than three and a half years.
Casey Dreier: We need to get the president, listening to the show, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: He is more than welcome.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, no, it's the fundamental problem here. This is what worries me as a policy person. This has nothing to do with a political leaning either way is when you have, and this is again, we've talked about this on the show. I've written about this on planetary.org. When you have something like space, which is ideologically unmoored, right? There's no connection. There's no fundamental ideology of Republican or Democrat in this case that says you should like NASA or not. When that's the case, if you have the embrace of this type of politics or this type of issue by one party or in this case, the defacto head of that party, right? Very visibly, it incentivizes the opposition party to resist it because that's just how politics works, right? There's nothing ideologically mooring them to one position or another.
Casey Dreier: So it's easy for that to shift an opposition because well, we need to be an opposition party. So we can't fully support this. You're starting to see this already happened with Artemis funding, which is very hard getting that funding through the House of Representatives run by the Democratic party and this type of tweet does not help. And what I love to see is that, something like what Starship did or the Commercial Crew astronauts coming back, or the Perseverance launch, that's an American success that is everybody contributed to that.
Casey Dreier: All of those tastes space takes so long to do. That you require multiple administrations picking up and passing along that baton and keeping that pace going. And it's an American success, not a Republican or Democratic success. And that worries me again, the longterm, how are we able to keep this kind of classically this bipartisan support for the space program when you see a lot of pressure to make it partisan. And unfortunately, this is kind of where we are in this country with literally everything. So it's not a surprise, but it's something we have to work very hard, all of us, whether you're a Trump fan and love space or you don't like Trump or you like Biden or whoever. We want to have everybody like space. So it doesn't matter which party is in control. That there's a consistent support for this type of work, administration to administration.
Mat Kaplan: As our boss says, the science guy, space brings us together and brings out the best in us. And we don't want to see that jeopardized. You mentioned that house budget stuff going on at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. You want to give us a quick look at what they've come up with for NASA that the Senate is now playing with.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, just a quick update on this. Since we just also saw House of Representatives action on appropriations for NASA this year, along with a number of other agencies, and I've updated this on our tracking page at planetary.org, I'll drop a link into the show description here with pretty much what we talked about it, they froze NASA funding at what it was last year. So for those who remember the White House had actually proposed a significant 12% increase to NASA for fiscal year 2021, up to about 25.6 billion. Almost all of that increase was going to be used for Artemis, particularly for a human landing system. The house basically just excised that out. They kept it flat at 22.6, they moved some things around. It's not all bad. They did some very good things. They restored funding for the outreach and STEM program in NASA, the science, technology, engineering, and math outreach.
Mat Kaplan: As they do every year.
Casey Dreier: As they do every year. Yep. I think I said I would eat my hat if that didn't happen. And so my hat is safe for yet another year. They also restored funding for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. It used to be called WFIRST. So that, will continue from the house perspective. And they threw a few extra bucks towards planetary science. They put an additional $40 million through an amendment to support the NEO Surveillance Mission. That really important space telescope to search for near earth objects that could be threatening to earth and they threw extra money towards earth science. And so science does a lot better in the house bill than in the White House version, but they basically took and lopped off the entire new Artemis growth. And again, I think you're seeing that happen because that is being so tightly associated with the president through the president's actions and the actions of his administration, that it incentivizes them to do that.
Casey Dreier: There's historical precedence for this too very similar kind of situation with the Space Exploration Initiative back in 1989 and 1990, where George H. W. Bush, was proposing large increases for NASA that the Democratic Senate in that case, basically surgically removed from their budgets. So it's not historically unprecedented, but it's certainly frustrating. And you just want to take this all back and say, Hey, look, everybody wins from this process. So where are we now? Well, so the house has passed this completely voted on through the House of Representatives. The house has done their job. Now it goes over to the Senate. The Senate, they haven't done anything publicly yet. They have yet to release their version of the bill.
Casey Dreier: They have to eventually release their version, pass their version. And then they also of course, have to reconcile the differences between the two house and Senate versions. And then at some point, hopefully before October 1st, but unlikely pass the bill that funds NASA and all these other agencies is some compromise, very likely what we'll see as we're getting closer and closer to the election is as I've predicted a temporary stop gap measure that basically extends current funding levels into the future probably to be dealt with after the election later in November or December. But we are still not there yet, but this was a step forward in that process.
Mat Kaplan: So there's another civics lesson for you. Casey, you've given us back a little bit of a tease. Anything else you want to say before we go into a deep and very satisfying civics lesson? That's part of it, this conversation with your guests today, Mary Lynne.
Casey Dreier: I do want to say something. This has just been such a crazy busy month for space, but the Perseverance mission launched, that was an amazing thing to witness. It's personal for me beyond more Mars missions, other Mars missions, I should say watching Curiosity launch in 2011, was a very pivotal point in my life, seeing that lunch made me want to come and work for the Planetary Society, which somehow I did. And it helped completely redirect my career into space policy and space politics. My wife, I should say also is a scientist, a planetary scientist who, who works on the Perseverance mission and she has been working on her end on the camera team for nearly seven years. Well, I should also say I was in the room when John Grunsfeld, the associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate announced the Perseverance mission at Mars 2020, at the time in December of 2012.
Casey Dreier: And so I feel like I was kind of at the Genesis of the mission. And then I saw a very interesting perspectives as it was made through my wife's participation and then getting to fruition and seeing the whole thing come together and launch, I've never experienced something like that before, we were supposed to be there at the launch this year. Of course, everyone knows why we weren't, but it's such a... Seeing a rocket as you know, Matt, is a very moving experience, it's a very experiential thing to do, watching it on TV does not do it justice. And so it was bittersweet to go through that. We got up very early for us and sat down and put up the speakers really loudly.
Mat Kaplan: Little [inaudible 00:21:02] round.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. And we had champagne at, I think, five in the morning or whatever was roughly when [inaudible 00:21:09]. So we did things to make it feel special, but it was a spectacular launch. The whole experience I have to say of a launch is so different when, in this case, my partner had seven years of work sitting on top of that giant bomb that has to explode downwards at a certain pace, just like with watching a LightSail launch, right. When it was 10 years of work by the Planetary Society sitting on top of that and already fundamentally exciting situation becomes profound through that process.
Casey Dreier: Joseph Campbell would love this kind of experience of that cathartic release of stress after the launch is successful. But the buildup, it's very much demarcates a major event. Thanks for indulging me letting me share that, that was a special moment to watch. But also again, the mission itself, obviously just astonishingly exciting through the instrumentation, its ambition and its ability to hopefully find something very exciting on the surface and prepare things to bring back.
Casey Dreier: It's the first, as I was saying, Mat, this is the first of a trilogy of missions. And I was trying to think, I don't think there's been any other science mission or sequels that are baked into the plan, right? This is like the start of the sample return, extended universe of Mars missions. So it's a big deal, right? It's like The Fellowship of the Ring of Mars missions. So there are sequels coming that depend on this succeeding, right? And so it's a big turning point too fundamentally in Mars exploration, we are moving from, this is the last of the in situ right in place science investigations at Mars, by NASA for at least a decade. And this is the beginning-
Casey Dreier: ... Mars by NASA for at least a decade. And this is the beginning of the effort to bring samples back. And there's going to be kind of a cost to that, literal and opportunity cost, with the promise of that, when those samples come back, the amount of scientific knowledge that they will contribute to our understanding of the history of Mars and potentially life will be worth the wait. Yeah. So, it's a very exciting moment.
Mat Kaplan: I kind of prefer Sample Return: The Next Generation myself for talking about this franchise that has now begun with Perseverance. Please pass along my congratulations to Melissa. I know that all of us, everyone who listens to this show is, along with you and me and her and the rest of that Perseverance team, so looking forward to that day in February, and those seven more minutes of terror, and Perseverance doing its work down on the surface.
Casey Dreier: I'm sorry I can't... Well, hopefully, I'll cross my fingers, but in case we can't share it together, like we did with Curiosity, we'll find a way to have that experience somehow.
Mat Kaplan: Let's hope we're all vaccinated by that time, and standing with thousands of other people at another Planetfest celebration. But of course, The Planetary Society is not going to miss out on the next landing on Mars. And it's not just one landing, but three, because of course, we also have the UAE's Hope and a Tianwen 1 from China. Wishing them all a great success. All right. You want to get us into Mary Lynne?
Casey Dreier: Yes. Let's talk to Mary Lynne. And just, again, she has a very long professional bio. I'll just highlight a couple of things here. Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar is... she's a Fellow of the National Research Society, an Associate Fellow of the American Institute for Astronautics and Aeronautics. She was a National Research Council Committee member on the Committee for Human Spaceflight. She helped write the Pathways report. Long-time listeners know that I really love this report, outlining the rationale for human spaceflight through the national academies. She currently serves as the President and CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a non-profit industry group that represents the kind of large aerospace companies' support for ongoing permanent capability to send humans beyond Earth. She's also on the User Advisory Group of the National Space Council. Just a very well-connected, experienced voice on these matters and, again, I think a very interesting perspective on the role of programs like the Space Launch System and Orion. So, here's Mary Lynne Dittmar.
Casey Dreier: Mary Lynnne, thank you so much for joining us today on the space policy edition.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Well, it's my pleasure, Casey. Thank you for asking me.
Casey Dreier: Let's just get right into it. You wrote an op-ed that came out a couple of weeks ago that we'll link to called "NASA's mission to the moon is about far more than cost." And in that op-ed, you say that compared to commercial capabilities, there's a value to national investment in space, and it's justified due to two primary things. You said technical and geopolitical reasons. Let's dive into that second aspect. What's the geopolitical benefit for these national investments into space? And how or what we're doing now, with particularly I think the SLS and Orion programs, how do those address those benefits?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: That's a really great question and I'm glad you've asked it because I spend a lot of time trying to explain this. It's more a function, I think, of the fact that people aren't as aware of the geopolitics that are associated with the space program as they are with newer developments in space, those that have been more investor-driven. And so, I think people tend to neglect the geopolitical aspect, but that has been with us from the beginning. It's evolved, of course. I mean, it's not the same, by any means. We're no longer in a cold war nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union, but the impetus for what became the Apollo program was of course that conflict and competition with the Soviet Union. And as you move forward into time, there has been a recurring theme of geopolitical interests associated with human spaceflight in particular, but not just human spaceflight, but I will stick to that just for the purposes of this answer.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: A lot of people aren't aware that the International Space Station program, for example, which I participated in, people know that it's international, I mean it's in the name of the spacecraft, but they maybe don't remember that part of the focus of the partnership, as it was broadened to include the Russians, was to try to address nuclear nonproliferation. That outreach by, then, the Clinton administration, occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union. And there was a great deal of concern that Russian scientists would find their way to what we can euphemistically call not-aligned nations, those that didn't necessarily have the best interests of the U.S. at heart, as well as Western allies. And so, part of the reason, not the only reason... I mean, the Russians had a terrific, developed space program on their own and more experience doing space stations than any other nation on Earth I might add, which is still the case actually. They basically, that outreach was, in part, driven by the geopolitical interests having to do with control of nuclear arms.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: And as you move forward in time to closer to where we are now, as we've talked about going back into deep space, and of course these discussions have been underway for a long time, congressional authorizations, which determine policy, have always defined the international partnerships as part of the goals of the Human Spaceflight program. I mean, that has always been the case. If you go back to the NASA Authorization Act starting in 2005, up to the last one we had, which I think was 2017, they've always spelled out, "Okay, international partnerships is a key component of it." And the last point of that has to do with U.S. activity and security in deep space.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: There is a difference in the way that nations look at the endeavors of private companies, however brilliant they may be. And so, there was nothing about my op-ed... As a matter of fact, my op-ed talked about the fact that these other capabilities that are coming on board are a critical part of what the U.S. takes forward. But there's a difference in perception from government to government. When you see a government investment in both the vehicles that are going into deep space and the humans that are going into deep space and the huge infrastructure that surrounds that right here on earth, there's a recognition by those governments, that that's a commitment on the part of the United States to exercise the partnerships that it's been discussing for decades to go forth in a way that entertains the peaceful uses of space, and that is allied with their interests also in space. That commitment on the part of the U.S. government can't be met by private companies, just because the private companies don't have the power to make that commitment. Those are the things that are really the distinctions in my view.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. It's almost like a distinction in kind or of type, I'm trying to phrase this. If the U.S. government, by doing something, by putting money into something and setting authorization, that's a function of policy of a nation, versus a private company pursuing some sort of capability. I guess it's like the difference... I was trying to think of an analogy. Maybe it's like the U.S. putting in lots of money to develop the F-35 versus Boeing's commercial sector side of the company developing the 737. One says something very different to the rest of the world than the other.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: I think that's very good. That's a good analogy. I think it helps the understanding along. And I think sometimes there's a misperception that this is an either-or proposition; or if someone is supporting the programs that represent the government, then that means that somehow they're opposed to commercial programs or commercial providers or the rapid advances that we've seen in technology. And that's not the case at all. It's that all of these things are needed as we go forward. And the difference in kind or in type, as you said, is important because it addresses certain needs or stakeholders in a different way than commercial interests or commercial ventures may.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. I keep going back to Alex MacDonald, I think, I don't know if he coined the term, but in his book, talked about how human spaceflight in particular is this great signal for use of nations. Hard to fake and hard to make, and kind of demonstrates a certain level of technological organizational capability to send humans into space and bring them back. You were drawing this connection of this history of human spaceflight in particular being used as a geopolitical signal by the United States to others and other countries, of course, doing the same thing, with obviously the Soviets starting that.
Casey Dreier: We have, as you said, now, this kind of bifurcated policy program, in a sense, at NASA. You have these big national investments for deep space, really about deep space human exploration, your SLS and Orion, your related ground systems and so forth; and then kind of this newer... and I hate to use the word, "commercial" because obviously these are all companies, private companies, in a sense. But maybe new contracting methods of this public-private partnership method.
Casey Dreier: So, we're seeing this kind of debate about what is this value of this national investment, this kind of quote, unquote "classic" structure of investing in this type of capability. And I have to admit, it does resonate with me most strongly in terms of why we do this, it's like, "Well, the government wants to create a capability that's guaranteed. And the government can't rely on a private company to just ensure that that capability exists, if this is a critical aspect to the nation."
Casey Dreier: So, maybe to expand on further, how do you see deep space exploration for humans serving that need? Why is this a justifiable use of government investment, when there are commercial capabilities that may not serve exactly what the government needs, at least being pursued and developed separately? So, what value, from the U.S. policy perspective, does deep space exploration then provide that justifies the expense of this capability?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Well, one of them, I mean we just talked about, which is the geopolitical. It's a strategic value. Sometimes I think that's a little difficult for people who are caught up in... like today, I was sort of watching what's going down on Padre Island, to see whether or not the Starhopper's going to hop. There's a lot of discussion about that that's happening on this date. People who are sort of caught up in that, it's a little difficult to sort of step back and think about the longer-term strategy.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Businesses have strategy. So, I've worked for big aerospace. I've started three companies. And now, I run a nonprofit. All of those have business plans. It doesn't matter. All of them have to have business plans. And so, businesses have strategies too. For a government, the strategy usually has a very long horizon. Businesses may have very long horizons also.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: And return on investment, if you want to think about it that way, is calculated differently. It's calculated on the basis of sort of the ability to develop and maintain these assets. I think referencing Alex's comment about this being a signaling thing is very important. And it's really hard to calculate that. On one level, we're talking about soft power, right?
Casey Dreier: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mary Lynne Dittmar: What is it that a nation is communicating to other nations about their intentions, their commitment, and their openness to partner? I would argue that geopolitically, the benefits that have come from the International Space Station, for example, have been astounding. No one's ever going to put an ROI on it. Nobody's ever going to be able to characterize it. I mean, there may be products and capabilities that are developed on station as a result of the research that's done there, that may in time generate return on investment, either for the government or for private investors or public investors who are putting their money into seeing things to fruition. And that would be great. I mean, that's awesome. And everybody's hoping for that because we're also trying to develop a market over time in low Earth orbit. So, that's another piece of the policy, and I'll come back to that in a minute.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: But the benefits that have been returned as a result of the fact that you've now got over 105 nations that have participated in some way with the original international partners on board the Space Station are tremendous. It's helped bootstrap up those countries. It's helped them develop their own technologies. It's provided them with an on-ramp to getting into space and to advancing their own technologies and to benefiting from partnering with other nations and companies who are developing technology.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: And so, it's impossible to characterize all of that, but I would say that the return on investment, if we sort of talk about it that way as a justification for policy, is massive, both in terms of international relations and then also the development of those nations. And then the spinoffs that are going to occur, some of which we are simply not ever going to be able to track, but they're present and they're real.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Now, when it comes to looking at other contracting mechanisms as a way of speeding development, we're talking broadly about public-private partnerships. Although, I will tell you that I also, similar to the comments you made about the word, commercial, I have a similar response to public-private partnerships, because I think that the term is being... it's almost becoming a wastebasket term. It applies so broadly. What we're really talking about here are contracting mechanisms that shift risk. So, in the case where you were having a government-contracted system that's done quote, "traditionally," close quote, you do everything you can to lower the risk. You have a tremendous amount of overhead associated with meeting a great number of requirements that are implemented as a result of the framework that exists in the federal acquisition regulations, the FAR. You have congressional oversight because Congress is charged with oversight of the federal dollar, and so they have great deal of interest in taxpayer expenditures. And then they also have a great deal of interest in the return on these capabilities, both in science and exploration, that they actually move forward and they do what they're supposed to do.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: In other transactional authorities or in public-private partnerships, which are other contracting mechanisms, the risk is shifted. In part, the government is taking risk, but in part, the private entity is also taking risk. This is shorthanded sometimes. People talk about skin in the game, right?
Casey Dreier: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mary Lynne Dittmar: ... on the part of the private entity or their investors. But it's essentially, it's a different way to manage risk from a contracting point of view. There's more risk in that system, but as a result of the fact that that private entity is agreeing to take some of that risk, then what the government does is step down on some of these other requirements. And then what the private entity gets out of that at the end is essentially control of the asset, that they own that asset.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: This has been practiced in the U.S. government. Actually, its history predates the U.S. government. The English had a thing called the East India Trading Company, which some people may remember from their textbooks, which at various times spun off into public-private partnerships, kind of unfortunate history of colonialism, which I'm not making light of, but it created a model that you could sort of bring it all the way forward to today and sort of see this. And then the U.S. has used this sort of model to invest in infrastructure, for example, in the United States. And it's been used worldwide with various levels of success.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Sometimes it works really well. We have seen some great successes in NASA in space. But also at other times, it doesn't work so well. And sometimes it takes a long time to see how well it's going to work. So, it works best when it's entering into an already-existing market, when there's already demand for it. When we're in a situation where it's a "if you build it, they will come" sort of situation, where you enter into public-private partnerships without really being sure about whether or not there's a demand, then there's obviously a much higher risk of failure because market economics take over there. And if demand fails to materialize, then there are problems no matter how good the technology is.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: What I really like about the way that space policy is proceeding right now is that we have this mix. We have a mix of the government systems. And we've talked about some of the geopolitical aspects of that. We have the creation of, and the use of, other transactional authorities. We have Space Act Agreements. We have public-private partnerships to develop capabilities in the private sector. And bear in mind, when NASA was created in 1958, the idea of bringing along commerce and bringing along the private sector, that was part of the thinking in 1958. So, what we're seeing now is the fruition... what we've been seeing for the last 10 years in particular. There's always been some of it, but much more in the last 10 years. We're seeing now the fruition of this original idea. And a lot of these technologies that were developed originally in the public sector were then transferred into the private sector.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: And so, you've got this virtuous cycle of these technologies being developed and funded heavily by the government taking the risk for that technology development. And then as those technologies mature, they're spun off and they're spun into the private sector. And then the private sector can improvise and innovate and iterate on those technologies and those capabilities and advance those technologies further for business purposes. And I think this is a great policy.
Casey Dreier: So, there's like eight things I want to follow up on from that.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Sorry, I talked too long.
Casey Dreier: No. I'm trying to just frame this from a big perspective, because I think the tension that we see, that I see, online between people who become critical of I'd say, again, these larger programs that are expensive versus this kind of new capabilities is really this idea of risk and who owns that risk, is what you were saying. The classic model of cost-plus contracting, the government basically pays to buy down that risk in advance. And the public-private partnership or the, let's say, fixed cost or shared whatever, however you want to define it, you assume that if that fails, the government has to be willing to walk away with nothing. This is where it comes down to this idea of a national capability. So, if you want something to be guaranteed to be there, you kind of have to pay to ensure that that will be the case for a long time.
Casey Dreier: This is why I kind of said it's like this difference in kind, where the values of this kind of business mentality are being applied to public management or public oversight or public capability, which is, by definition, not the same. It seems like that that's maybe where some of this tension comes in, because we see the incentive structures just being completely different in both of those two cases. Did you agree with that, or does that simplify it too much?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: No, I think that's really getting to the crux of the matter. I mean, part of why I wrote the op-ed was to point out, first of all, from a technical point of view, a lot of these systems that are being developed for the government are currently being developed to meet needs for which there really is no market right now. And they've been in development for a long time. And we're getting to within striking distance of seeing them fly. There's only one big piece of equipment that's not yet at the cape. Everything is down there, right?
Casey Dreier: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mary Lynne Dittmar: We're waiting for the core stage to finish Green Run testing for SLS. Those technical capabilities have been... by the time, they get down there, they've already been rung out. And then they're going to get wrung out some more. And the government is paying for all of that to do exactly what you just said, to buy down risk because once those things go into space, they're going to be flying for a long time.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: That's the other thing. If I'm a business, especially an entrepreneurial business... I've started them, a couple myself. And I've had one success; one that I sold, which I guess was also a success because it was an exit; and then one that was actually sort of my favorite technically that was an utter failure, complete failure, from a business point of view. And I learned from all three of these. But one of the things is that businesses have to be able to pivot. So, let's say that you spend a certain amount of time developing a capability. And this is one of the challenges also when we talk about human spaceflight, "Oh my god, the lead time is so long." And it doesn't make any difference on one level, whether or not you're developing those capabilities for the government. I mean, it ostensibly takes longer, but nobody's ever brought a human spaceflight system in quote, "on time" close quote.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Even during Apollo, like everybody goes, "Oh, well, we did it." Well, yeah. We did the entire thing by the skin of our teeth by the end of the '60s, which we promised to do, but if you look at the development of the individual systems, they lagged too. I mean, this is just a hard, hard thing to do because the engineering is so exacting, I mean is what it boils down to. And all the pieces have to fit together and they all have to work together.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: So, I think when we think about all of this, people get caught up in the technology that they're seeing demonstrated by newer companies and entrepreneurial companies. And that's awesome technology. I mean, it's a wonderful thing to see, from somebody like me, who I... my first efforts in commercial space were in 1998. I've been at this for 22 years. There've been people who've been at it a lot longer than that. For somebody like me who's been watching this, seeing these capabilities being evolved now in the private sector is great, but they have an objective which has to do with advancing the business case for those businesses, as well as other aspirational objectives that may belong to the founders or the investors or the boards. But their first focus must be to advance the business case of those businesses. And they're developing technology. I mean, all of those pieces have to work for them too. And if they're able to put those at the...
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Have to work for them too. And if they're able to put those at the surface of the government and they feel great about doing that, then that's wonderful. There is absolutely nothing, I would hope, that dictates that you have to have business objectives that are opposed to those of the government's. Or that just because you're in business, that means that you're not aligned with national objectives. I'm not saying nobody's ever saying any of that either.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: But the balance of effort and the goals and the incentives, which you mentioned, which I think are very well mentioned. These are really different for government systems and government assets than they are for businesses. And there's no reason that they should have to be the same.
Casey Dreier: Right. Well, and that's ... Again, just going to the idea of incentives. I mean, I think again, to what people are keying off of here is seeing the rapid amount of iterative progress through a company like SpaceX, which has upgraded its Falcon 9 however many times already. And it launches, it fails. It does something. They just do it over and over again. Being able to land, being able to do those autonomous landings out at sea as well, reuse and so forth.
Casey Dreier: The incentive structure for the national capability model doesn't seem to support that kind of rapid technological development. It seems like there's this contrast or there's this separation happening between the two. Where people see, "Oh, well, if you want the future to happen, you go to this new kind of mix of hybrid model, but with kind of this more capitalist business focus moving forward." But the existing national asset capability model hasn't been, at least publicly or in the same sense of visually, keeping up with that.
Casey Dreier: Is that a function of just bad incentives or different kind of incentives? Is it irrelevant? Or is it just to have the U.S. be able to say, "We can lift a lot of stuff to low Earth orbit and to the moon." Does it matter if there's new technology in that or does it matter that it's just big? Are these incentives aligning properly here?
Casey Dreier: Ultimately, I guess, to even take it to the bigger aspect of this, what does it say to the rest of the world if the rapid technological pace is not happening with the national assets versus the other types of development? Does that say something, does that ultimately undermine in any way the kind of geopolitical role occupied by these?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: One thing is, that technical progress that you see broadcast on Twitter or YouTube is what you're allowed to see by those businesses. And businesses vary tremendously in terms of what it is that they demonstrate. If you compare the absolute showmanship of SpaceX with a more circumspect approach that's been taken by Blue, for example, I don't think that anything that we're seeing implies that SpaceX is better than Blue or Blue is better than SpaceX or anything like that. I just think first of all, one needs to be sensitive to the fact that you're seeing what those businesses think is in the best interest for the public to see.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: And when it comes to government systems, a lot of that government development is controlled in terms of public release, by things like export control. There's a review cycle that is, trust me, tremendous. Associated even with things like release of photographs. And the reason for that is because, we've talked about this before, there are government goals associated with the development of those systems and how their systems are going to operate that have the national seal on them. And that information, it's just not going to be disclosed. That's one thing.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Social media has really distorted, in my view. I mean, there's an up and a down, right? On the one hand, great, propagates information more broadly, gets you on top of information really fast, allows people to develop constituents and stakeholders, engages the public in ways that hadn't been possible before. I'm totally in favor of all that. But the downside of it is there is a tendency sometimes, at least it seems to me, for people to believe that what they're seeing on social media is all there is. That what's on social media reflects the sort of deeper realities of what it is that they're looking at. And a failure to recognize that people who are very adept at using social media are using social media.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: That's one thing I just feel like I need to say about the public discourse. And that's not to put anybody ... Obviously, I'm on Twitter. I use it, right? That's not to put anybody down. You guys have terrific presence there. I think that it can be used to educate in some ways that are really significant. But it has also got ... It also has a heavy marketing component to it. That needs to be recognized on the one hand.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Now I'm not by any means saying that this is all optics. If what you're trying to do is develop reliable systems that will carry with them ... okay, that will operate at relatively low risk. And I'd say that relatively, because there's nothing safe in human space flight. There's safer. Okay. At relatively low risk for decades. Then the technology that you're going to use, you will advance the technology.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Certainly despite a lot of what you see, for example, in social media, the SLS is not four shuttle engines and two boosters from the shuttle, slapped onto an elongated shuttle tank. From an engineering point of view, those items represent both assets for the system, but also constraints on the system, right? Because as soon as you have fixed functions like that, then you essentially have to re-engineer the entire system to sort of accommodate those.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: This notion that somehow the whole system is antiquated technology is certainly not true. The methods for manufacturing include some things that have never been tried before. Like some things that provided challenges, for example. The deep stir friction welding, there was a lot of publicity about that. It's significant, the deep stir that was used for SLS segments. I have to fall back onto calling them SSM [inaudible 00:06:34]. My old shuttle days.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: The RS-25s are being used ... are being built by Aerojet. Entirely new controller, operates with entirely new avionics and electronics. They're using 3D printing to sort of drive those engines. They've gotten to a point now where they're going to fly on the first few and now they're undertaking the next iteration of those. And then that eventually, because it's a public program, right? Those technology investments will feed back into the private sector. Which is something I don't want to lose either. Is that the money that is spent on developing these systems does eventually then filter back out, it proliferates, right, back out into the private sector. And the private sector can iterate, innovate on those. That represents an indirect value to business.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Yeah, technology development is continuing inside these programs. The Orion crew vehicle has transferred over 60 process and technology improvements that have gone, for example, been made available to SpaceX and to Boeing for commercial crew. You don't get that to go in the other direction, right? It's because these are public systems that are being developed in that way.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: If there was nothing of value, okay, in terms of process or technology improvements that was happening in Orion, then that transfer wouldn't be occurring. But that doesn't mean that the U.S. Government is going to be taking out billboards saying, "Hey, these things are the things that have been made available." Some of them they do. Okay. They do talk about those things. But they're not going to talk about all of them for any of these systems.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: I think part of it is just a recognition of the fact that again, the stakeholders are different, the constituents are different, the incentives are different. I don't see these things as either, or. I understand why the public imagination is captured by seeing fly-back boosters. I think that the staging, for example, for the first flight of the Falcon Heavy was awesome. It was some of the best I have ever seen. And that was an extraordinary, extraordinary sight to see those things come back and to understand what it is that, that represented.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: I am looking forward to Blue starting to carry payloads and passengers regularly. I mean, all of that stuff, the work that Virgin's doing is sort of a different thing. But I was there at the Department of Transportation when those two guys got their wings, right? I mean, it was our three ... including best.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: It was awesome to see all that stuff developed. And I get why the public imagination is captured by those things. It sees rapid technologies, these rapid iterations. But you're right, again, this is technical risk that those companies can assume, because they can then turn around and walk away. Not so easy for the government.
Mat Kaplan: Casey Dreier and Mary Lynne Dittmar. We've got the second half of their great conversation coming up right after this break.
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Casey Dreier: Do you see a divergence happening between public interest and kind of the discussions on the political side in terms of where congressional interest lies in this? Is that becoming a tension or a friction? Or do you think that's kind of overblown based on where we actually see the policy happening? Do you see pressure, I guess, from congressional perspective to take more of a ... Are you seeing that SpaceX effect kind of hitting Congress? Or is it mainly understanding the same kind of, "Well, these are very different programs. We need to continue investing the way we were."
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Yeah. A personal note. The reason I took this job, and it's funny, because I see comments made about me on Twitter. It's like, "Ah, well, Mary Lynne is really well paid, you know." Mary Lynne took a pay cut to take this job. The reason I took this job is because I was very concerned that with the constant pressure on discretionary budgets ... I'm talking pre-pandemic here. Let's just set that ... That's a whole other can of worms. But just set that aside for a moment. There is downward pressure on discretionary budgets. And there has been for a long time, as a result of the growth of those things to which the government is committed and that are non-discretionary. And so as that portion of the federal tax dollar grows larger, this is simple math, the availability of funding for the discretionary sector, which includes NASA, but is certainly much broader than NASA, continues to decrease.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Under discretionary budget pressure, given the advances that were being demonstrated, my concern was that Congress might say, "Well," especially newer staffers, right? Might not yet have had the time to understand and assimilate what the entire range of values are that are associated ... the big value set of value propositions for human space flight, let's say. That they might not have had at the time to assimilate all those. They're going to be excited by what it is that they're seeing out here in the private sector. And might start saying, "Well, why in the world do we need those government systems anyway?"
Mary Lynne Dittmar: And unless there was a means to say, "No, we need all of this," right? "We need the government work and we need it for these sorts of reasons." And we need it for a chance for the private sector. We need it for creation of these technologies on the government dime, where the government takes the risk, moving into markets that don't exist, maybe want to be markets or markets that might develop. Okay, we need all of that. We need it for the geopolitical reasons. We also need to see ... We also need to make sure that government can manage this regulatory framework in such a way that it doesn't stifle the development of the private sector. Right?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: And so all of those things were undertaken by the coalition when we rebooted it, to try and sort of say, "No, we need all of this." I don't know that my perception was the correct one, that my decision to do this was in response to a real concern, a real threat. It was my concern. And it was the concern of some others. By the way, also including people in the private sector, this wasn't just the founding companies here. Right?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: But other people were concerned about that, because they recognize that if Congress, under these tremendous pressures ... I mean, and I don't envy Congress, their job one bit, right? I mean, the challenge of all the balancing act they have to do day in and day out is tremendous. And also for the staffers, who are some of the hardest working people in the country. That if those pressures started to drive us in this direction, what we were going to lose.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: And this is also a real thing in terms of boots on the ground. One of the jobs of duly elected representatives in a representative democracy. I keep trying to remind people sometimes, "Yeah, a representative democracy has representatives." Part of the job of the representative is to return economic value to their districts. National programs do that. They engage the nation. One of my concerns was that if that pressure drives us away from that, then what actually happens to the allocations? What happens to the funding? What happens to the international relationships? What happens to the security implications of this? Which are not insubstantial. Trying to balance all this.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: And that's what I was saying, I think the policy now is good, because it's providing a means for private industry to step up and iterate and do technical development, as well as to sort of have this government backbone and assurance behind it in driving forward to all of it.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: And my experience over the last five years is the people on the Hill understand this. They do understand this. They do balance these things. They may be excited about the ... And some of them are. Several are excited about sort of what they see in the private sector. But they also take very, very seriously their responsibility to steward national interests. Which they see broadly, as I do, as representing both things like geopolitical interests, but also interest in stimulating capital markets, technical innovation in the private sector, as well as the government sector, et cetera. And so they try to craft a policy that enables all of these.
Casey Dreier: You said something really, I think, important that's worth dwelling on for a minute there, in terms of the idea of a representational democracy. That each of these members of Congress are elected, not by the nation, but by a group of people in a specific geographical area. And this idea of directing federal investment into those areas to provide jobs and improve their economy is not a new concept. It's kind of like baked into the system.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: No. It's not a continental congress.
Casey Dreier: And I mean, and that's almost ... Kind of this goes to this original topic we talked about, which was this difference in kind. Where a national program, it's not a bug of the system that it's kind of pricey. Because it's spending the money in a lot of different places and it's not wasting the money, really. Right? I mean, it's enabling a lot of people to have good jobs and in places they wouldn't normally get them.
Casey Dreier: And so just from whether a person agrees with that or not, the political calculus is pretty objective. And I've always kind of joked people arguing for, let's say, dump the SLS altogether and go to SpaceX, is going up to Senator Shelby who chairs the appropriations process and says, "Hey, I've got a great deal for you. How about we cancel this program and lay off 20,000 people in Alabama and generate a couple thousand jobs in Texas and California? How does that sound?"
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Yeah, I know. By the way, how's that election going?
Casey Dreier: Yeah, exactly.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Yeah. I'm really glad you're raising this. You know, I do a lot of lectures and I do a lot of work with universities and I do STEM outreach for private entities, as well as public ones. In the last several years, I've found myself giving what amounts to a civics lecture. Which I certainly never thought I was going to grow up and be teaching civics. But I don't think the high schools are teaching civics. This may be why you sort of end up in this position, as unlikely as it seems.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Yeah, this is how our government works. And you may decide that you don't like it or you don't like this government structure, as you said, that you don't agree with it. But this is the one that we've had since 1776. And the idea is this, that, as you say, representatives are elected by their constituents in a specific geographic region and they are sent to Congress and they're sent to Congress really for two reasons. One of them is to return economic benefit to those who elected them. And the second is to work in the national interest.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: There's tension there, right? Because the needs of the people who elected them may not always align with national interests. And as a matter of fact, in an increasingly polarized society, such as the one that we are sadly operating in now, we see those tensions spilling out all the time. We're talking about it in space, but it's been in a lot of other places, right? We've had national investments in the federal interstate system, we've had national investments in the railroads, we've had ... Thinking mostly transportation. But we've had national investments in sort of large infrastructure projects. And then people have turned around and said, "Well, how does that benefit us?" Well, benefits you through commerce. It benefits you through trade. It benefits you through all the mom and pop shops. In the case of transportation, all the mom and pop stores that originally popped up along these highways and then freeways.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: And so, there's a lot of, I'll call them downstream economic benefits that also come that are not directly related to the jobs that are associated with this. But when we talk about the space program, yeah. These are real jobs, okay, affecting real people's lives. Those jobs are sometimes in otherwise technologically not advanced areas. Some of these companies, the majority of the companies inside the coalition, for example, are small companies. We spend a lot of our time working with those small companies and trying to address their needs. Right?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: A lot of those small companies, they're trying to keep little technology centers, if you think about it that way, or manufacturing centers or design and development centers or software centers going. And in some cases, they're one of the only options for jobs for young people who are coming up into those sectors and have interests. And seeing it right there in their own backyard, understanding that this company exists and it builds valves for this rocket, for example, or several rockets. [inaudible 00:01:06:03] companies are building for several rockets. That actually does leave an impression. And so it does absolutely, positively create jobs.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: It gets derided as pork. And I think it's clear when you have situations where basically jobs are being created in a representative district and I'm not speaking about House of Representatives here, I was just using the word representative broadly. Representative or senator. You see that being done in a district that looks like, "Well, why is that happening here? Would it better over here?" Well, because that's the outcome of many times of political horse trading, right? In which you can assume that there were other benefits or trades that were kind of made. And again, this is how the system works.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Space, in my view ... And the reason that tension's really important is because managing that tension between these sort of local interests and these national interests allows people who go to Congress to begin to understand what the relationship is between the national interests and the local interests.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: And I'm not saying that all of them balance well. And I'm not saying that all of them behave well. They're people, okay. Like any other group of people. But the folks that I work with there and have had really the honor of working with their either staff or members, they do take very seriously sort of these challenges. But they need to remember that under our system of government, they are charged with returning those benefits back to the constituents that elected them. And space is no different than any other industrial sector, any other infrastructure project, than defense. Which is often pointed to because the workforce overlaps considerably. It's no different than those in terms of how those deals are made. And those benefits are returned.
Casey Dreier: It always kind of strikes me ... maybe you know of another sector, but I don't, outside of space where a good contingent of its supporters tries to downplay or criticize the fact that too many jobs are related to the industry. Like calling SLS a jobs program as a pejorative, kind of sounds insane from a political perspective. Because that's what everyone else opens up with, how many jobs they create by investing in this system.
Casey Dreier: The tension, as you were talking about, again, by this incentive structure. In a national ... In a representative democracy, when you have discretionary funds and something, particularly with space where it's kind of an esoteric abstract concept to begin with. I mean, of course the incentives line up to choose and support more expensive projects. We'll get a bigger coalition, because there's just more resources to go around to support it politically.
Casey Dreier: I wonder if there's actually kind of ironically a political disincentive to make programs more efficient. Because connecting ... Overall, I'd say in a very general sense, the cost of a program generally relates to how many people are employed.
Casey Dreier: ... it's the cost of a program generally relates to how many people are employed by that program as the primary cost. So, do you see that as the consequence? Like, "Why aren't you seeing huge cost savings?" Well, it's because that's not the point. It's not a business trying to save money. It's a government trying to build a program, trying to build political support by returning jobs and support throughout the country, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: I agree with most of what you're saying there. I do think that as technology improves... I mean, one of the huge... the things that's changed tremendously since the days of Apollo, right? People keep saying we're repeating Apollo and I'm like, "Boy, I don't see it." I see international partners who want to play every day. I see this growing private sector. I see... And the private sector, as you pointed out, is what's been behind the successes all along, right? These are all companies that are returning value either to shareholders or investors. I see all those things happening.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: I mean, one of the really wonderful things about this cycle where you see the investment being made by government and the government systems and then it spun off into the private sector, is that the private sector... if those companies are successful... and we've been really fortunate in the United States, I think, to see successes... That's not always the case, right? I mean, think the last count I had was 135 or something like that for number of launch companies that were started around the world right now. I mean, this is not anything like a market... It doesn't matter how great your investors or your incentives are or your other transactional authorities are, it's going to be really hard to see that happen in a lot of those cases.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: But, I think that recognizing that the jobs and the support of the workforce is part of the national asset. It is very different than a business operates. You want that workforce to be available for the government, but also for private industry. You want those centers to exist inside those states and those companies to exist inside those states to provide educational opportunities for people who are coming up inside those states, and to begin to do things that they start to do naturally when they mature, right? They enter into partnerships with other businesses, the enter into partnerships with universities, they provide internship opportunities, they do... There's there's all kinds of... Again, this is a chain of values, of value return, that are all linked, and they're not all visible. They're not immediately visible.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Yeah, there's much more cost associated with that, but the returns are... I would just talk about the workforce. That workforce, that aerospace and defense workforce... The same argument can be had on the defense side, right? And it's growing on the defense side because people are saying, "Well, we can just do all this stuff that was being done by the Department of Defense. We can do more of that through the private sector." Well, yeah. That's great where it's applicable to do it, but there's some cases in which, for the same sorts of reasons, you're not going to want to do it.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: That asset of that workforce, that's important to the nation. That goes beyond what's important to business, right? It is important to business. It's absolutely important business. This is not an either-or discussion. But that aerospace and defense workforce... those folks were deemed essential under the pandemic for good reason. We really need to maintain those skills, and we need to grow those skills, and we need to make those skills more diverse. We need to bring more people into that sector, both for government advancement of capability, and for private industry advancement of capability. Again, if all those jobs just went away, if you just said, "Oh, well. I'll just cancel this program. I'll cancel that program." Really? You think all those people are going to go find employment?
Casey Dreier: Right. You serve on the User Advisory Group at the National Space Council where you're... kind of to this point of what you were just talking about, you were grappling with these big picture issues, this whole of government approach to space and the benefits that serves not just for business, but from the national interest. I'm just curious, what's it like to serve on this? It's a coveted role to be on the User Advisory Group. What are you trying to represent and develop as a group to help guide the nation's future in space?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: I want to take the second question first. The idea of the User Advisory Group... And, it's Users Advisory Group, actually, is as its chair, Admiral Ellis, is wont to point out [crosstalk 00:04:31].
Casey Dreier: Excuse me.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: That's... the idea being that we're sort of all users, right? It's made up mostly of industry, some educators, some longterm experts. We have some astronauts, and then two association heads, right? Myself, and my co-chair, Eric Stallmer, who's just been wonderful to work with on the Economic Development and Industrial Base subcommittee... The idea of the group is that it brings varying perspectives.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Some people from the outside have looked at it and said, "Oh, there's all these industry heads on it and of course their perspectives are all going to be pretty much the same because they're all representing big industry." And it's like, "Believe me, that is not the case," when you get down... It's not just because of interests that are differing from a business... competitive point of view, but just because these are folks who have a lot of experience, and they've been thinking a lot about these issues, the idea is that what we do is advise the National Space Council.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Now, what that means practically is that we do work in the subcommittees as well as in the executive committee and then generate findings and recommendations that we think the Space Council should be aware of, or that help advance topics or issues that we know the Space Council is already working on. And, I'm going to ask you to forgive my cat who has decided sound off just now, so you may hear him in the background.
Casey Dreier: He's got strong opinions about the Users [crosstalk 01:15:01].
Mary Lynne Dittmar: He has very strong opinions. He has to live with it all the time. It may just be a cry for help, honestly.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: So, the idea is to advise the National Space Council, I was going to say "practically," but what this really means is forwarding findings and recommendations up to Scott Pace, who is the Executive Secretary of the National Space Council, and as Scott and his staff work with the National Space Council or with the office of the Vice President... the Vice President chairs the National Space Council, as you know... to advance ideas having to do with policy and in some cases some things that are sort of tactical.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: So, for example, our subcommittee looked at issues pertaining to spectrum and raised some concerns which you're now starting to see played out over the decision that got made with regard to Ligado. And, I'm not going to... I don't want to go down that hole so much unless you want me to, but there's a lot of concern about the use of 5G and how 5G is going to be implemented. And oh, by the way, a whole lot of people in space use 5G, right? So the conversation... or they use bands that are adjacent to, or the concern... are may be interfered with by 5G, and so we did a little bit of looking at that.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: That's the kind of issue... A spectrum issue is the kind of issue that has broad applicability, because satellites have interest in it both private and government ones. Industry has interest in it. The Department of Defense has interest in it. NASA has interest in it. As a matter of fact, it's hard to kind of imagine anybody that's involved in space that doesn't have some equity having to do with spectrum. That's a case where we had some discussions about that just to sort of... in our case, it was just sort of trying to tease out and better understand what some of those issues were.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: The U.A.G. is also... Eileen Collins has a subcommittee that she chairs which has been focused on STEM education and outreach. Eileen has been looking really carefully at issues having to do with workforce, workforce development, technology capability in that workforce, and also diversity in that workforce. They're looking a lot of recommendations that have been made previously by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which is an adjunct to the White House as you know, as well as the National Science Foundation, the National Science Board, as well as a lot of STEM-focused initiatives both in and out of the government. And, talking a lot to university students into university faculty about what it is that they think are shortfalls... or, not necessarily shortfalls, but areas of improvement with regard to education. They've made a recommendation that they think that the government should look at essentially what amounts to a new workforce education bill.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Now, these recommendations as they go forward... that's obviously another sort of hole of government implications... These recommendations come forward as an advisory group. We don't advise NASA, we advise the National Space Council. Some of the findings or recommendations we make could be related to things that are going on inside NASA, but not always. The idea is to provide this outside body of industry and experts as a means to provide an additional input. So, that's the idea of the U.A.G.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: What it's like to work on the U.A.G., which is your other question, it's an advisory group, so... I've sat on several of them. I'm on another one over at the National Academies, which is the Space Studies Board. These are... They're great opportunities for the individuals who sit there because... I mean, I learn at least as much as I give. Much more, I think, than I give. But, the focus of this, to be able to provide advice and counsel to the nation, it truly is a tremendous honor, and I take that very seriously. I'm also in the space transportation... the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory committee over at the F.A.A., and all of these positions are sort of the same in the sense that you need to realize that the focus of what you're trying to do is to be thinking about, "What are the national goods? What's in the best interests of industry? How do we think about these things holistically?"
Mary Lynne Dittmar: But on a boots-on-the-ground, day-to-day level, you know what? It's meetings and phone calls and review of documents. In my case, the person I talk to the most is Eric, right? Conferring with my... As a matter of fact, we have a tag up tomorrow. It's conferring with my co-chair thinking about how do we help our subcommittee be as effective as possible, and like that. The day-to-day, tactical aspects of this are just... it's pretty much like being in any other advisory group.
Casey Dreier: The joys of committee work.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Exactly right. Exactly right.
Casey Dreier: So when you serve on these types of committees... And, you served on many over the years, and very high profile committees for various advisory groups and others on space. How do you balance... Or, how do you approach the idea of balancing your personal views on space with your professional responsibilities? Are... Is there a huge difference? Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar as the head of the C.D.S.E. versus Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar as the head of Dittmar Associates. Is there... How do you try to balance that out or be aware of your own personal desires versus the members and others that you're representing?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: This is a question that also goes sort of the representative government question, right? When you're in a leadership position, when do you trust your own perspective as best representing the broad interests of your constituents even if all of your constituents don't necessarily see it that way, versus when do you feel like you really need to defer to specific interests, right? In the case of the U.A.G., it really hasn't been very difficult. That may sound sort of funny, but in a lot of cases... And, I would say this is true of the coalition, too. It helps to start with an understanding of the high level goals of the organization. Eric and I are a little different than a lot of the rest of the folks that are serving, many of whom, not all of whom, are special government employees. We were placed on the U.A.G. specifically as industry representatives, meaning representatives of industry, right?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: So we were placed there specifically to represent the interests of our respective associations, as well as to leverage our experience and thoughts going into it. When we've gotten into discussions, for example, in the subcommittees... Although, actually, when good discussions get going in the subcommittees, he and I just try to be quiet so we can let the subcommittee discuss things... Kind of also the role of a leader is to know when to be quiet. But, I think... I have to say that as the C.E.O. Of C.D.S.E., I speak frequently with my board about what the platform is, if you will, the policy platform and the communications platform... is for C.D.S.E.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: It hasn't changed for the entire time that I've been in this position, which is that... our bedrock is that we support the government programs, the need to have these government programs, but also in human explore... Well, in human exploration, but also in science. I've spoken up some on the U.A.G. about the science aspect of it, as has Les Lyles, who actually chairs the Exploration and Discovery subcommittee. And, on C.D.S.E., and also to advance commerce in space. This has been in our platform, on our website, for five years.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: So for me, given that that's the goal, the only thing I really cannot deviate from, and wouldn't because it's the reason I took the job in the first place, is advocating for the government programs, the government assets, the need for the United States to have national with U.S. on the side programs. But, since we also strongly support these other developments, then for me, it's sort of... it's really not that difficult.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: There have been times, though... not so much on the U.A.G., but I would say on... in some other settings periodically, where I've been aware that there's a tension between what it is that I think and what I... That I need to do to speak on behalf of C.D.S.E. I don't ever say anything I don't believe, but there have been times where I have chosen not to say something extra maybe, or not to hammer on a point that, if I were left to my own devices I might hammer on for better or for worse, to speak on behalf of the association that I represent, because you know what? That's my job. But, if I've said something on behalf of C.D.S.E., I found a way to say something that I can get behind.
Casey Dreier: As we look ahead... just very quickly in the minute or two we have left, you can just sum up facing... both for you and for the C.D.S.E., what are going to be the most important policy challenges or issues that you're going to be dealing with over the next five years? What do you see as becoming the most important thing for the U.S. as a national capability to deal with in space?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Technology is proliferating around the globe at an astonishing rate. Computing capability, if nothing else... And, there's plenty else... If nothing else, has driven transaction costs... I'm talking about this now in terms of technology development and engineering and systems engineering and all the rest of that, has driven those transactions that are internal to all of that, to the floor in terms of cost. If you think about what used to have to be done on paper and now is done in software, those capabilities are proliferating around the globe and they are driving... whereas it used to be the hardware that was driving all of the engineering, now it's the software and the hardware that's driving all the engineering. We may end up in a situation where that's flipped. Some people think it already has happened in some cases. So, as that proliferates more and more and more, and the technology is available more and more and more, you're going to have more and more entrants coming into this game.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: On the one hand, that's awesome. New innovation, new technology, new players, new opportunities for partnership, new discoveries, new advances. I mean, what's happening in science is amazing. I mean, if you look at... and, I haven't had any time talk about science this time, but if you just... which is funny because I'm talking to The Planetary Society, but... If you look at what's happening in space science, it's just stunning, right? I mean, it's just stunning in a really exciting way. As more and more of that happens, then understanding how does all of this get orchestrated going forward? The U.S. is going to need to think very carefully about what the nature of partnerships are, and who are those partnerships with.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: It's important for this nation to understand what it needs. What are its values? What are its goals? And it always starts with goals, right? Whether it's the C.D.S.E. or the U.A.G. or the nation or a business, to understand what those goals are, and then to understand what the needs are of the others... others sort of writ large, that it will be dealing with and working with. How is it that we orchestrate all of that going forward?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: That's already a terrific tension, and it's one we've actually talked a lot about during this entire podcast, right? It's kind of surfaced in a bunch of different guises over and over again. That tension, in my view, is only going to increase. It plays out, in some cases, in great ways. Breakthroughs, people get on board, they get excited, they get really interested, they advance science, they advance exploration, that's awesome. Plays out in some other ways, not so great, right? Big debate going on right now about just how advanced, for example, are China's capabilities. And, would we know? How do we figure out how it is that we manage all of this stuff and orchestrate all of this going forward, because from a strategic point of view... And, I am, at my core, a strategist... From a strategic point of view, the strategic tools that you use, these things evolve over time.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Right now it's a very large rocket and a deep space vehicle and the ground systems to support them. But in 20 years, it may not be. Right now we think about these things in terms of... The work we've done recently on U.A.G... How do we secure U.S. and U.S. business' ability to be able to operate in space? What do we start thinking about now to facilitate their development and the entrance of markets into that space and a lot of other things?
Mary Lynne Dittmar: We need to be aware that these strategies... these tools that we use... those strategies and tools may need to evolve over time. For me, that's the biggest challenge. That may not be the most satisfying answer, but it is where my head operates. Thinking about how we do all of that while continuing to support national interests, while continuing to support business interests, while continuing to support science and exploration and commerce, and the interest of our partners, both international partners and industry partners and university and academic partners. It's really a huge interlocking universe, but we need to recognize that it's not static. It will continue to change, and how we meet that challenge requires a lot of really good heads, a lot of really thoughtful people, a lot of brilliant technological work. I think we're up to it, but it will continue to be the challenge that faces us.
Casey Dreier: Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar is the president and C.E.O. of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration. Mary Lynne, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your thoughts with us today.
Mary Lynne Dittmar: Thank you for asking. I enjoyed the conversation.
Mat Kaplan: Casey Dreier, Chief Advocate for The Planetary Society, in conversation with his guest, Mary Lynne Dittmar. Great conversation Casey. I... It really was fascinating. As you know, I was monitoring it as I said earlier, and I also go through it again just to... A terrific get, as I told you a couple of weeks ago, when you told me that she was going to be on the show. I hope that we will hear from her again.
Casey Dreier: Oh, I had so many questions that we ran out of time to talk about, so absolutely I think she will be gracing our audio space at some point in the future.
Mat Kaplan: All right, we'll close this out, and we'll do that with one more pitch before we leave you. planetary.org/membership is the place to go to learn all about becoming a member of The Planetary Society, all of the different levels at which that can happen and the benefits.
Mat Kaplan: And of course the greatest benefit is that you will be supporting the work of the society, which includes the work that Casey and the rest of our advocacy folks, prominently including Brendan Curry, do on your behalf as a space fan, as someone who wants to see us out there exploring the solar system and beyond. Once again, planetary.org/membership. We hope that you will become part of the part of the society. Join us. Casey. Thank you very much.
Casey Dreier: Oh, always great to do this with you, Mat. Thanks again.
Mat Kaplan: We will talk to you again on the first Friday in the month of September, as we then will have just, oh, about two months to go before a momentous political decision is made here in the United States. Wherever you are around the world, remember that we are on our way to Mars and we are busy all around the solar system, and that is something to be very thankful for.
Mat Kaplan: I am Mat Kaplan, the host of Planetary Radio. Casey Dreier, Chief Advocate, and Senior Space Policy Advisor for The Planetary Society. We will be back, and I hope between now and then you will tune in to the weekly version of Planetary Radio. This has been the Space Policy Edition. Take care of everyone. Stay well. Ad astra.