The National Space Council's Scott Pace joins the show to discuss the current administration's whole-of-government strategy to expand humanity's presence beyond Earth. He argues that Project Artemis naturally integrates national security, commerce, geopolitical, and exploration opportunities and generates a broad benefit to the United States, thus creating a political coalition to sustain human activity beyond Earth. Casey and Mat also discuss NASA's announcement that it hopes to purchase commercially-collected lunar samples—the answer may not be what you think.
Related Reading and References
- A New Era for Deep Space Exploration and Development (PDF)—A Moon-to-Mars Strategy from the National Space Council
- NASA announcement regarding purchasing lunar material
- About Scott Pace
Mat Kaplan: Welcome to the September, 2020 Space Policy Edition of Planetary Radio. We are so glad that you are back with us. Apologies for the one week delay, but you're going to hear in moments why that was so well justified as I introduce my partner, my colleague, Casey Dreier, the Chief Space Advocate for The Planetary Society and our Senior Space Policy Adviser. Casey, welcome back.
Casey Dreier: Hey, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: That was one heck of a conversation well worth waiting an extra week for. Who is your guest this week?
Casey Dreier: My guest this week was the executive secretary of the National Space Council, Dr. Scott Pace. The National Space Council being of course the high level government intergovernmental council chaired by the vice president with the attempt to set whole of government policy for space and really make space this integrated policy issue, not just at NASA, but through national defense, through Department of Transportation, commerce, energy. It's made up of basically a bunch of department heads of the US federal government.
Casey Dreier: So he's the guy who runs that council on a day to day level. He was the head of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, where he's taking leave right now. Very smart, very insightful mind on space policy. I'd say one of the best people on space policy that we have in the United States. We have a great conversation really about this new strategy document that was released by the National Space Council in July, that I encourage you to read called A New Era for Deep Space Exploration and Development, which really, again, unifies all of the work that we've been seeing out of the National Space Council, all of the space policy directives, the SPDs, as he calls them, all of the attempts to try to unify and coherently address the issues of space through commerce, through national defense, and through science and exploration. So very interesting and I think very illuminating idea of how space can be used from a policy perspective to be relevant to all aspects of government, and as Dr. Pace says, not just to us space fans and advocates.
Mat Kaplan: After we listen to your conversation with Scott Pace, I'll relate some of the ancient history that I have with him. He has been a space enthusiast like you and me certainly and probably everybody listening to this, but one who has learned how to deal with real politic and just a fascinating person. I am probably nobody better to be in the position that he's in. That's what's coming up for you moments away.
Mat Kaplan: Before we get there though, some housekeeping to take care of like reminding you that all of this is happening because of those people who are members of The Planetary Society and put up the funds for us to do the Space Policy Edition, to do Planetary Radio and everything else that the society is up to. We would love to have you join the fold, join the family by going to planetary.org/membership and checking out all the different ways in which your membership will benefit the society and how we will benefit you. And perhaps the greatest benefit that we can offer is the representation, the stature that The Planetary Society has gained around the world, and especially in Washington, DC, that enables us to call the White House and ask Scott Pace if he'll have a conversation with Casey and that happens.
Mat Kaplan: It is because of our members that we have reached this position of, dare I say, respect and effectiveness. And we thank our members, all of you out there who already have become members, for making this possible. And we hope that the rest of you will consider joining them as well. And you can directly support the advocacy efforts of The Planetary Society. How do they do that, Casey?
Casey Dreier: Well, again, being a member is great or planetary.org/advocacy. You'll find a link there to give us a direct donation to this program. We will not spend your money on anything else at the society if you want to give it to that. But yeah, it's... And just as a reminder, we are a nonprofit. We exist because of members. We do not have substantial corporate funds nor do we take government money. So we really exist on the generosity of members and donors to do our work, which really, again, gives us that respectability and independence that Mat was just talking about.
Mat Kaplan: So there's the sales message for this month. We may just remind you of that at the end of today's show, but we should get to this news item, which only happened today. And I should probably say Casey, I'll let folks in on an a behind the scenes secret. We are recording this well less than 24 hours before it is made public on The Planetary Society website and across the web and only minutes after your conversation with Scott Pace. And it was just this morning, as you've pointed out to me, that the NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, talk about putting strategy into real world effect. Here is what he tweeted this morning September 10th. "News, @NASA is buying lunar soil from a commercial provider. It's time to establish the regulatory certainty to extract and trade space resources." What's going on here, Casey?
Casey Dreier: It's kind of an interesting development and it's not necessarily what you would think initially from what the news was. But basically what NASA is saying, what he's saying here is that NASA is opening up for contract solicitations for basically people have pitched them with the idea saying NASA is ready to buy samples of the moon if you want to sell them to NASA. Obviously, you have to collect them in order to give them to NASA. In addition to pursuing its own efforts to return to the surface of the moon and bring samples and bring them back to earth, NASA is saying that if you want to collect some samples, we'll buy them.
Casey Dreier: The interesting thing here is that NASA is saying, "Okay to buy them on the surface." So you can transfer ownership to NASA without bringing it back to earth. But also at the same time, NASA will give 80%, I believe, of the payment is upon that delivery. So you'll give a little bit of money up front, the rest of the money when you collect the sample successfully and then NASA, at some point, ideally will go and grab it and return to earth.
Mat Kaplan: Let me get this straight. I pick up a moon rock, I put it in a little box or my robot does, and it sits there, but NASA has bought it. I don't have to bring it back home to let's say, Houston, until later.
Casey Dreier: That's true.
Mat Kaplan: Or NASA will take care of that.
Casey Dreier: That's the gist of it, yeah. So what's going on? Right?
Mat Kaplan: Wow.
Casey Dreier: And again, we should say how much NASA is willing to pay at remarks at the Space Sustainability Summit, which was happening today sponsored by the Secure World Foundation. The administrator said that they'll pay upwards of $100,000 for up to 500 grams of material, which is not that many grams of material, right? The Apollo brought back hundreds of kilograms of moon rocks.
Mat Kaplan: About a pound, maybe a little bit more.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, and not a lot of money really, right? When you think about how much, even for a commercial company with a lot of efficiencies, it's going to cost you more than a hundred grand to send something to the moon to pick it up. Skeptical minds may be wondering what's the big deal or why are they doing this? I saw some initial discussion on Twitter this morning and response to it saying, "Oh, it's a way to incentivize private companies to do this." I don't think that's really the point because we already have a program at NASA to do that. It's called the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program, CLPS, which is spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year, procuring lunar access through these private companies over the next few years to land scientific instruments on the surface and maybe come back eventually as well.
Casey Dreier: And again, the money isn't really enough to motivate people. The really important aspect of this is that NASA is saying it will buy it. It's putting out a federal contract saying we will buy it. And it's the transfer of ownership. It's the act of selling something that you have collected on the moon to the US government. That is the important part. That's the precedent that it's trying to set because we have in the context of this, the Outer Space Treaty, right?
Mat Kaplan: Yes.
Casey Dreier: Signed in 1967 that says no nation or entity can basically make a sovereign claim on any celestial body. Classically, in history with humans, you associate claims with working the land, right? So when you would come out West in the United States, you would claim ownership of your land by working it for a certain number of years. That's not legal according to international treaty on the moon or anywhere, right? You can't own it. So if you're a business looking to attract investors on the premise that you want to return value by basically mining something in space or using in situ resource utilization to create rocket fuel on the moon or whatnot, as it stands now, you have a significant legal uncertainty saying, do you own what you collect from the surface of the moon? If there's no property claims possible from that.
Mat Kaplan: This is exactly where I was hoping you would go next. Have you thought about or would you expect to see any international reaction to this new policy from NASA?
Casey Dreier: I don't know. This'll be interesting. So there is a legal framework for this that actually passed in 2015 in the United States, right? So this is not an international treaty that has been signed, but a law passed by Congress signed by President Obama in 2015. For anyone keeping track, it's HR 2262, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. It contained a couple of subsections about space resource utilization. What it tried to do was codify within US law to walk as a balance, a fine line between the international obligations in terms of sovereignty claims on other bodies and to encourage commercial activities through assurance of property rights.
Casey Dreier: And the analogy that Administrator Bridenstine used today was that of, it's like deep sea fishing. If you go out into the open seas, no one owns the open seas, right? They're just international waters. You can fish for tuna. And if you catch a tuna, it's not anyone's tuna, it's your tuna. You've successfully taken a resource from international waters. It's yours. You can sell it. You can have businesses that make their profit from that. This is the key idea that was applied in this law from 2015 that says, if you collect a resource, whoever collects that resource owns that resource. And it very explicitly says that by doing so, the United States asserts no claim of sovereignty or any exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, I'm quoting now, or ownership of any celestial body.
Casey Dreier: So you can basically, the lunar rocks or the new space tuna, you can collect the rocks, you own the rocks, but the United States has explicitly said that does not imply any claim of ownership of the moon itself. And so that's what the law was and what we're seeing today with this announcement, this is the United States from a legal perspective basically creating a legal precedent for the actual application of it. So it has remained theoretical until now. It may still be theoretical until someone tries to do this. But the US is saying, it's okay to buy and sell stuff you collect from the moon. That is the important aspect of the announcement today, not the commercial incentive. It's the idea that the US is okay with buying and selling pieces of the moon for commercial purposes.
Mat Kaplan: Speaking of tuna, give someone a moon rock and you'll make them very happy. Enable them to make money off of mining their own moon rocks and you'll set them up for life.
Casey Dreier: I was wondering where that was going. I'm very impressed. Good job.
Mat Kaplan: Thank you.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, teach an astronaut to fish. But yeah, so it's an interesting idea. And so I think this is a kind of a good lead in to our discussion with Scott Pace interestingly enough, because this is an example of this whole of government approach that is being pursued in terms of the Artemis project and this idea of sustainability beyond financial sustainability. You're trying to find ways to encourage from all kind of levers that government has to apply a greater number of entities, people, organizations, and nations that have a shared interest in going to the moon. Beyond just spending money, this is a way to establish a legal precedent that will help drive further investment into creating, not just a resource exploitation and other celestial bodies, but using that to help create privately run or commercially managed in situ resource utilization and production to sustain human presence or robotic presence by making rocket fuel, oxygen, whatnot on another body. You have to have a stable, legal chain in order to have banks loan you money, for investors to put up funds that reduces in sense, the legal risk for all these entities to move forward.
Mat Kaplan: And you do address making lunar utilization and turning it into a commercial activity with Scott Pace. And in fact, you specifically ask, does commercialization of low Earth orbit have to come before that? It is just one fascinating portion of this conversation that we are about to share with you if you're ready to do that, Casey.
Casey Dreier: Let's do it, man.
Mat Kaplan: All right, here is that terrific conversation that Casey had not long ago with Scott Pace. It's not much better than telephone quality because we were calling into the White House. We couldn't use our usual technology, but I think you will thoroughly enjoy this. And we will talk to you on the other side.
Casey Dreier: Dr. Pace, welcome to the Space Policy Edition. Thank you for being here today.
Scott Pace: Glad to be here, Casey. Good to hear you.
Casey Dreier: We have a limited amount of your time, so we're going to focus exclusively on the strategy that the National Space Council released back in July, which is called A New Era for Deep Space Exploration and Development. For our listeners who may not have had the time to read this paper yet, can you just share with them, what's the core message that you'd like them to take away from this? Who are you writing this for and what goals do you have for this?
Scott Pace: Sure. That's a great question. Basically, the purpose of this document was to outline the generally, US government framework for what we see as a future of deep space exploration and development. We had Space Policy Directive 1, of course, talking about directing NASA to engage in a program of going to the moon and onto Mars with commercial and international partners, but that's fairly brief. And then we've had NASA getting lots of details about the Artemis plans and what they're going to do next and gateway and that sort of thing. But what we felt was still missing was a an over-articulation of the strategy of going to the moon and onto Mars and why international commercial partners were important and what it meant really for the whole of government and really the whole of American society, rather than simply just a NASA programmatic. Even though NASA is of course, utterly critical and central to this, we wanted to really take a larger, a whole of government approach and why this was strategically important.
Scott Pace: So it builds upon and supports SPD-1 and the NASA plans, but it tries to provide a larger context. It doesn't really create new policy. It's really an articulation and a narrative of a whole bunch of issues and themes that have been woven into a lot of our activities from the executive order on encouraging utilization of space resources to what we've done about streamlining a regulation affecting commercial space industry, SPD-2, and even a little bit about the fact that we're in a different security environment which is where SPD-4 on the creation of the Space Force came from.
Scott Pace: So it tries to say that we're in a different world today than we were in the 1960s and the reasons for doing exploration and development while having themes that still resonate from earlier areas of exploration. We now take place in a different context and much more globalized world of many more countries participating in space, much more democratized world in which we have many more private sector entities participating. We didn't really think that we had a document that really pulled all of that together into a fairly accessible narrative. So that's why we went ahead and did the report at the direction of a space council tasking.
Casey Dreier: It was very successful in weaving that narrative in a way that really united a lot of the activities that the National Space Council has taken over the last few years. And particularly, in setting this rationale for why the moon should be a destination for the United States and for returning humans there and expanding it beyond that. Was that a difficult, in a sense, a narrative to construct? Do you have a large number of people represented on the space council? How do you drive that kind of consensus necessary throughout these various aspects of government in order to have the buy in necessary to make this a useful articulated strategy?
Scott Pace: Actually, it wasn't terribly hard at all because in many cases, what we're saying is not this or that, but and. That we will have multiple different themes and as people were able to see how space related to their mission and their interests, it was, I think, fairly easy to get them on board. Now, NASA doing science and exploration, that's pretty central, but then when you show how removing government regulation or streamlining it or updating it is part of a larger administration theme of growing the economy, commerce's role in stimulating new markets and innovation, defense of course, in making sure the US is secure and how having a strong space industrial base and space capabilities contribute to doing that mission, what we were able to do is just articulate a little bit more deeply as to how the conduct of space activities was not some thing separate onto itself, but it was actually in a really woven into everything that other agencies were already doing.
Scott Pace: So getting them on board and saying, "Oh, hey, that activity supports my mission," which is not per se, a space mission, but a space mission supports what I'm supposed to be doing, it would, I think, fairly smoothly. This goes to the differences between space councils at different times in history. The very first space council actually, you can find it in the Eisenhower administration, but the first time the vice president chairs space council courses in the Kennedy administration and the overall imperative there was the Space Race with the Soviet Union.
Scott Pace: When you look at the space council in Bush 41, when I was at the Commerce Department and was serving as a representative to the Space Council at that time, we are dealing with a different world, which was a post Cold War world. That is we were transitioning away from the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall had fallen and a lot of dual use technology issues that previously one didn't touch because Cold War was on. You then started thinking about surplus high CBMs, high resolution remote sensing, entry of Russia, China, Ukraine as a launch markets, things that were not really thinkable during the Cold War period.
Scott Pace: And so we dealt with a lot of that transition. As I said earlier, the world today is one which is more globalized and democratized. So the space council today operates in a somewhat different environment. In each case, the space council's job is to pull together different aspects of government in a unified effort. That's what happened under Kennedy, is what happened under Bush 41, it's what's happening under President Trump, to meet national needs in a unique period in time. So we adapt to essentially in each incarnation.
Casey Dreier: Do you think there was maybe an inadvertent policy mistake in relegating NASA as the separate entity and endeavor that space exploration and activities happening in spaces essentially off earth, and you're having to correct that for the record or to bring it back into relevance to a broader sense of government, and really by definition, to the public itself to see space as a relevant activity beyond just going to the moon, planting a flag and coming back?
Scott Pace: Well, the purpose of, for example, NASA in the Space Race was really a geopolitical one. I think, if you will, talked about the purpose of going to the moon was not going to the moon, the purpose was to demonstrate US capabilities to the world and also to the Soviet Union as part of a larger geopolitical contest as Kennedy laid out. And so the purpose of space activities is always to serve national interests. It's not to serve the interests and desires of individual space enthusiasts, maybe like you and me, the purpose of it is to serve national interests because the taxpayers are paying for this. So in each situation in the '60s or today, there's going to be enduring national interests, but they're going to be articulated and manifested in different ways. So today, we stress going and doing exploration with international and commercial partners because that's the thing that best serves American interests.
Scott Pace: We want other people operating with us and cooperating together in space, whereas in the 1960s, the very point of the program was to show what the US could do by itself. Today, leadership is different. It's about how many people can we get to come with us? And so that's why things like the [inaudible 00:23:18] courts are so important because we want to have a broad range of other like-minded countries working with us in space, and that's what advances our diplomatic interests.
Scott Pace: With regard to commercial, it's obviously important to take advantage of the growing commercial industry and the energy and enthusiasm that the entrepreneurial community brings. Back during Bush 41, when we were looking for new and innovative ideas, we got some from the commercial industry, but it was fairly small at that time. We went to the National Laboratories, the Department of Energy, for example, played a big role in coming up with alternative ideas on how to do space. Today the Department of Energy, of course, is also a member of the Space Council, and we're getting some great stuff with them and we're working with them on some ideas for nuclear power and propulsion. But boy, we have plenty of ideas. The private sector and the international community is rich with all kinds of new possibilities. So partnering with the private sector, as we've been doing, is also part of this new form, new era of space exploration and development. So again, we're adapting to different times and different conditions.
Casey Dreier: This brings up the idea of sustainability, which is really woven through, again, this document. And you mentioned a couple of keywords there. There's enduring national interests, a phrase that pops up again and again in that document. And I was struck by reading this, the idea of sustainability. I think a lot of people hear sustainability and they think about cost. That that is just a function of being affordable enough. What I took out of this was that sustainability is really this, again, this idea of weaving it into this national interest, the idea of policy sustainability, that this will be relevant to any forward administration, not just the Trump administration right now-
Scott Pace: Exactly, yeah.
Casey Dreier: The idea of international engagement. So the idea of sustainability is really seem like it's matured and integrated a lot more. And do you see that being successful, this idea of creating this idea of sustainability by bringing more people into this effort to go to the moon first and then beyond that onto Mars?
Scott Pace: Absolutely. Look, I'm a veteran of the Vision for Space Exploration, I'm a veteran of the Space Exploration Initiative. I've been to this show a couple of times. And so when I was in university, I gave a lot of thoughts to sustainability, not just in the technical terms, like we don't want to create orbital debris and we want to make sure the space environment is not damaged in a way so it's sustainable for future activities, but policy sustainability, economic sustainability. This is where you have in some cases, technical solutions like increasing reusability, but policy sustainability to me is the most crucial aspect because you have to align yourself with enduring national interests that are going to be there regardless of party, regardless of administration, regardless of a particular Congress, in order to be enduring.
Scott Pace: I think the report made an analogy in passing that we can have great debates about the size of the US Navy. We can debate the number of ships they should have and how many should be submarines and how many should we surface ships and aircraft and what the Navy should do and what the pay rates ought to be and what new technologies are important, but we don't debate the fact that we need a Navy. That is something that's part of the defense. Now, space and space exploration are not part of the constitution. It is, in a strict sense, it is a discretionary activity. But what's not discretionary is the responsibility to serve the nation's interests, economic, security, and do so in ways that are respectful of the constitution and other legal requirements.
Scott Pace: So going into space is not a matter of just sending hardware up there or even people up there. Space activities by the United States are a reflection of our values. And to the extent that we have enduring values and enduring interests and that space serves, then space activities will in fact be sustainable because they will be a necessary part of our life. Then we can debate about how much and what's affordable and so forth, but we don't debate whether to do it. We debate how to do it because space is so integral to American way of life.
Casey Dreier: Why do you think that we still need to make the case for that? I asked if it was innately obvious that space did address these enduring national issues, wouldn't we just have a much more robust space program? Or what went wrong to not have those be clearly aligned in the past that this argument still has to be made do you think?
Scott Pace: Great question. I would submit that in most other sectors of space policy which we classically break up into security, civil, and commercial, on the security and commercial side, there is no debate. There is a debate about how to execute our national security activities. And the president chose a direction of creation of a space force, but the idea that space was important to US national security was not a debatable topic. It's quite well accepted and had been for some time. Transformed over the years, but it was clearly critical and everybody recognized it. Commercial activities, we again, don't need a self explanation. The commercial communications industry, remote sensing, GPS applications, all of those things really drive.
Scott Pace: Science is fairly enduring. Again, scientists never feel they have all the funding they want, but the decadal surveys of various sorts have met a steady, ongoing level of effort that we've been willing to afford. It has been sustainable, again, with debates on details. What's been debated is really human space exploration. How is it that human space exploration can be sustainable? Because the first time human exploration was done was done to answer a geopolitical question at a particular place in time. We then spent time learning how to operate a space post-Apollo. Shuttle and station programs were efforts to make space more routine and really learning how to do things. So we learned how to operate in low Earth orbit. It's really a teaching and education exercise.
Scott Pace: The next question is what do we do though after that? And why do we do it? I think that the timing has worked out where the commercial industry has matured, where the rest of the global space community has matured, and where the opportunities are now in reach to see human space exploration happen again, not because of a Cold War race, but because of an opportunity to bring other countries together and to leverage and drive technology in a way that will be advantageous to the United States and our allies in a way that probably couldn't have before.
Scott Pace: So I think the time is now right and that human space exploration will become more obvious as it occurs and as it returns benefits to the American people, as we have astronauts on the moon, on the lunar surface, experimenting with the use of lunar resources. As we have people routinely journeying into deep space to the moon and back and the way we routinely journey to low Earth orbit today, that it becomes a natural part of American life and a life of our friends and allies. And so we expand the sphere of human activity and, dare I say, the sphere of pre-human activity beyond the Earth and into space, again, carrying our values and those of like-minded countries, again, which is a bigger endeavor than simply doing something solely because space enthusiasts like you and me might like them.
Mat Kaplan: What do we tell you? Great stuff, right? Much more of Casey's great conversation with Scott Pace is moments away.
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Casey Dreier: This brings us maybe into a little bit of the geopolitical aspect I'd like to explore with you. The general steps proposed in this strategy here is commercialization of low Earth orbit, sustaining presence at the moon and then onto Mars. So we already have, in a sense, a sustaining presence in low Earth orbit through the International Space Station that really pioneered, I think, a lot of these types of geopolitical international partnerships of generally like-minded nations. What would going to the moon build on beyond that? Why is the ISS... What needs to be done that the ISS can't do in that particular context?
Scott Pace: Sure. Two things. First is that while we've been to the moon long time ago, other countries have not been there. So it is certainly new for them. Somebody commented that there's a lot of Americans alive today who were not alive when the last lunar landing happened. I think maybe even our current NASA administrator admitted to that. So a lot of things which are new, not only are they new to Americans, but they're new to other countries and other people, and other countries want to see their astronauts on the moon and part of it. So it's doing something which hasn't been done before.
Scott Pace: A more pragmatic rationale also for space station is that it's a singular. It's a space station. There's only one of it. And it will hopefully continue to last. It lasts a long time, but we know it's not going to last forever. And knowing how long space programs take, we need to make sure that we're building on whatever it is comes next, multiple smaller space stations, because I don't think we're going to build another million pound facility in low Earth orbit the way we have here. So while wanting to use the space station for as long as possible, we also want to avoid a situation where there is no space station and there is no alternative up there except maybe the Chinese space station.
Scott Pace: We've paid a lot of effort in blood and treasure to have this foothold we have in low Earth orbit. We don't want to give that up. We don't want our friends and allies to give that up, but we need to be thinking about what a post space station world looks like. It may still be dominated by government spending and government activities and training and technology development, but if we can carve out a niche and opportunities for the private sector and to leverage off the energy and entrepreneurship there, we ought to do it.
Scott Pace: So while the government should be at the spearhead of pushing exploration, we should try to do as much as possible to transition things to the private sector that we can. We've done that with Commercial Cargo, we're doing with Commercial Crew, we can certainly, I think, do so with commercial platforms, satellite servicing, propellant depots, all those things in the future so that the government is always out on the edge doing exploration, but leaving behind as much as we can, activities to the private sector. And the reason we need, again, to do it is because right now we have a space station singular, and we should probably have a more diverse and resilient toehold in low Earth orbit than we currently have. Wonderful as it is, we need to be thinking about the future.
Casey Dreier: We have talked a lot about today, the idea that we're not in the same geopolitical context as we were, we being the United States and during the Cold War, which led to Apollo, yet at the same time, I see a language I think that's reminiscent of that, dare I say, Cold War mentality in this document. I'm particularly keying on the attainment of a by a malign competitor of going to the moon, could gravely harm the international position and technical leadership of the United States. How is that still... How do we reconcile these two ideas that this is not the Cold War, but you're claiming that there is an aspect of international competition that would hurt the United States' standing in the world though we've seen quite a bit of change since the 1960s?
Scott Pace: Yep, absolutely. And it's a good distinction. The first thing I would say is that the rules are made by the people who show up. The people who are going to be out on the frontier are the ones who are going to be developing the norms of behavior and the standards. And we obviously want them to be conducive to our interests. The other thing with regard to malign competitors, let me be pointed and refer to China. In the case of China, we've looked at how they behaved in other shared domains, whether it's been the South China Sea, whether it's been cyberspace, whether it's been in actually in the case of Antarctica, we have a number of problems with them, or concerns should I say. And so this is how they behaved in other shared areas, there's no reason to think that their behavior in another shared domain like space will be dramatically different if they think their interests indicate otherwise.
Scott Pace: So we want to make sure that the space environment, which is very important to us, is governed and shaped in such a way that it has conducive values or peaceful use and exploration and use and development, again, by all like-minded countries. If China and Russia's behavior was a little different, we wouldn't be worried about this. But because we've seen how they behaved in other domains, it gives us pause and concern for the space domain because the space domain is so important to us. It is absolutely unlike the Cold War period. We are not in that kind of singular race, but we are in a situation where we're moving out into a new domain that's going to become more part of a day to day human activity, and we want to make sure that the values on that frontier reflect our values and interests. That's why it's important for us to be there. Others will be. And I expect there will be Russians and Chinese in space and even some in the future on the moon. I just don't want them to be there without us.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, that's the idea. You could have like a parallel existence, I suppose, of multiple types of philosophies or organizations or attitudes operating in space, as long as there's, the area that you have to share has to be, in a sense, peaceful, or I think the key word is predictable and secure for all operators to pass through.
Scott Pace: Yep, that's right. That's right. We have rules and guidance for safe and responsible operations in other shared domains. Certainly, the high seas and the air. That doesn't mean everybody follows those rules all the time, but it does mean we have standards and norms to call out bad behavior and that everyone largely agrees is bad behavior. So the space domain is really no different. We've built a foundation with things like global debris mitigation guidelines, we've been working multilaterally in the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space for the guidelines on longterm sustainability of space activities, the president just signed Space Policy Directive 5 on space and cybersecurity talking about principles of space systems for the first time. So all of these kinds of shaping activities are meant to create a conducive environment in which we can thrive and operate. And again, others may be there, but we want them to operate in a way that isn't hostile to us.
Casey Dreier: Moving to maybe just the last topic here before your time is up, the idea again, that the strategy involves this low Earth orbit commercialization, sustained presence at the moon onto Mars, and then also the idea of role of government as really stepping back and from a kind of it's classic role paying and doing everything in space, as many people are familiar with and supporting this private and commercial space actors in addition to them and the development of commerce in space, how flexible is this strategy, or how much are those going to be prerequisites for this to succeed? Do we need to have LEO commercialization before we can have sustained lunar presence or can those happen in parallel? And if LEO commercialization doesn't succeed in the way or become self-sustaining, does that ultimately undermine the efforts to sustain a presence at the moon before going, not to say anything, of going on to Mars?
Scott Pace: Very fair point. What happens is the frontier of expansion is not just a physical one, but it's also an economic one. That is the exploration of Mars, for example, is a classic exploration function because it makes no immediate economic sense. That is something that the private sector is not going to do and the government is going to be central to. In things like the moon, the government is still the driver their. Exploration is something that the government has to be on point for, but there are opportunities there for private sector participation. So privatization is possible there if we can imagine private entities doing cargo delivery, we can imagine private entities providing utility function or the communications or power or resources. So we use the efficiency of the private sector, even though the government is still going to be the primary customer.
Scott Pace: In low Earth orbit, we have the possibility of commercialization. And by commercialization, I mean, not just a private company operating something under a government contract, but private sectors and private buyers. In an older space policy articulation, gosh, 1992, we talked about the definition of commercial space activities. And we talked about it with private buyers and sellers and non-government market, private sector bearing the bulk of the risk for it. And to me, commercialization occurs when there is somebody else other than the government helping support the fixed cost of the capability. If the government is on the hook for the entire fixed cost of something, it really even if privately operated, is not going to be fully commercial. If we can find a way for others to share the fixed cost or find that it's in their interest to share some of the fixed costs, then we start having commercialization.
Scott Pace: Do I think that low Earth orbit will be fully sustainable by purely commercial activities? No, not anytime soon. Do I think it's possible to shift from the government dependency there now to having opportunities for more private sector buyers and sellers and more private sector burden of risk in return for more flexibility? Yes, I do. And think that that is enhanced if we have multiple facilities. The space station is not a US facility. Space station is an international partnership. And so there always will be fundamental limitations as well as advantages at the station the way it's currently constructed. Truly, all commercialization will occur when we are allowed to experiment with more smaller and private platforms in addition to government facilities.
Scott Pace: So the answer to your question, I think all these things do proceed in parallel. I think we could be thinking about, and I know some parts of NASA are, how we take advantage of investments out at the moon in order to feed back to what we do in low Earth orbit. Are there developments out of the gateway, for example, that could be leveraged for low Earth orbit? As we developed in space power systems that are useful on the moon surface, are some of those useful back in low Earth orbit? So I don't see it as an either/or, I see it as an expanding sphere moving outward, feeding forward to Mars as we've described, but also feeding backwards to leverage on and enhance what we do in low Earth orbit as we hopefully shift more responsibility over to the private sector so the government can focus on exploration.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, that brings me to my final question or thought for you, which is that the report ends with this nice idea of that space exploration development not confined to one time missions or any single destination, rather the effort described as one of the continually expanding human activity beyond earth. And that really strikes me as like the shift that I, in a sense, particularly NASA and how a lot of the public engages with space thinks of this as a leap driven or destination driven activity. It's like a conceptual tipping point has to occur to see it as the activity itself is the reward. Is that how you conceptualize this and-
Scott Pace: Absolutely. This is not about flags and footprints. This is not about single point destinations. This is not about one-off solutions that are one and done. This is about making sure that space exploration development is for the longterm benefit of the American people and for the benefit of our friends and allies and for the values that we hold dear. And so it goes back to the sustainability argument that if we were to go down kind of a one and done type mode, no matter how exciting the mission, that would in fact be not sustainable and at the end of the day, would not be in the interests of the nation and it wouldn't serve larger national purposes and therefore would not be sustainable no matter how inspiring any one-off attempt might be.
Scott Pace: Yeah, that is absolutely the kind of a reconceptualization of it that this administration, as you know, is about putting America first, but if also America first doesn't mean America alone, and that's why we tried to recognize that this is not just something that government alone can do, but something that has to do with partners and allies and private industry and all of the rest in order for it to be really, truly enduring and not to repeat the mistakes of the past. That's why the document is written in a way that I hope is seen as relatively administration independent, very much a nonpartisan type of document. It's one that's intentionally written and approved by everyone through the Space Council, through the review process, as something that articulate, something that took the longterm benefit of the nation, regardless of any particular person like me or anybody else.
Casey Dreier: And again, that document is called A New Era for Deep Space Exploration and Development. I encourage you all to read it. It's very readable. Not that long. We'll link to it in our show notes. Dr. Scott Pace, thank you so much for giving us your time today and hope to have you back on sometime in the future.
Scott Pace: Hey Casey, great to be here. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Mat Kaplan: Casey Dreier, Chief Advocate of The Planetary Society in conversation with Scott Pace, who I believe was indeed talking to you from the White House, Casey. That truly was a fascinating conversation. I'm used to listening to these. This was so interesting that I started taking notes, not even knowing whether I would have any use for them, but I'm very, very grateful that you were able to set this up.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, again, he's a great thinker on these issues. It's really important lesson, I think, from Scott Pace. And again, you can probably tell he used to be a professor. He still is I believe, he's just on leave, on these issues. I think you'd call it the kind of this real politic approach. Understanding how politics works and what drives ongoing and enduring political success is something really worth considering in terms of how to apply overlapping goals in order to drive things like space exploration, right? Where it doesn't have, as he pointed out, it's not in the constitution. I was going to say it'd be very far thinking of the writers of the constitution to include space as part of activity of government, but if you can make it relevant and that's the key there. And I think that's just a very important thing for all of us to remember, particularly as space advocates, not everyone is going to share your romantic or idealistic commitment to something that I have with you, right?
Casey Dreier: This idea that space is just this amazing endeavor by definition, right? This is like in communities, large communities, not everyone's going to share those values. But if you can make the argument that space and the action, and that's what I thought was interesting about Dr. Pace's perspective on this, it's not the end point of getting to the moon. It's the activity. It's the effort of going to the moon that is itself the value to these broad, as he called them, enduring national interests. And I think that's a very smart way to think about it for any kind of political action you'd like to see.
Casey Dreier: We've seen over and over in history when NASA has aligned with priorities of the nation, that's when you get the huge investments. That's when NASA really has benefited. And when it has drifted out of alignment, that is when it has suffered in terms of having its resources and priority. Trying to create this ongoing alignment is one of the, I'd say, professional goals that Dr. Pace has had and many others, but him in particular, in this case. And I think it's very instructive for all of us to consider in terms of how we can be better space advocates and make better arguments with people who don't necessarily share our fundamental perspectives on the value of space exploration.
Mat Kaplan: I love Dr. Pace's explanation of this, where he said space isn't in the constitution. I think Ben Franklin's motion was voted down, the one regarding lunar utilization, but it is and always has been a reflection of our national values. Just a fascinating point and certainly seems like one that we should keep in mind as we leverage everything that we advocate for.
Casey Dreier: Absolutely. And that's something I think that's really been a through line in my work here with the society as well and something I encourage our members who've come to the Day of Action in Washington, DC and what you learn through Space Advocacy 101 is, again, is know your audience who you're talking to. And how do you make your goals relevant to somebody else? I think this is a good way to think of that.
Mat Kaplan: Before we finish, I got to mention, I go back with Scott Pace about 35 years. I think it's more than that, to when he was, as far as I know, the unpaid head of space policy for the National Space Society and was on a TV show that I did, a very limited television series about space we did a long time ago. We crossed paths a few other times. And I mentioned this to him. When you finished your conversation with him today, I said, "It just makes me think of how much every bit of his professional life for all these decades has prepared him for the job he has now." He chuckled and he mentioned when he was working at JPL for $2 and some change an hour, but he was getting by because of overtime, and then they took the overtime away. So a true believer indeed, and he remains one today.
Casey Dreier: People don't get into this business for the glory or for the money. I can assure you none those, but it's a real privilege to be able to do this. And I'm sure he would share that perspective as well.
Mat Kaplan: I have no doubt. Casey, I think we're ready to wrap it up for today. Anything you want add?
Casey Dreier: Just that we'll look forward to talking with you all again in October. Great shows coming up and great more space policy to talk about. It should be an interesting next couple of months ahead of us.
Mat Kaplan: That's right. First Friday in October, the very last Space Policy Edition before a day of reckoning here in the United States. The nationwide elections will take place, and I suspect that that will come up as part of our discussion on that first Friday in October, assuming we don't have reason to delay once again. Thank you everyone for joining us. Thanks, especially to those of you who are members and supporters of The Planetary Society. Won't you join them if you're not already a member? One more pitch, planetary.org/membership. It doesn't hurt to take a look and see all the things that are going on there and consider becoming a part of our merry band. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you, Casey, once again, Chief Advocate for The Planetary Society and our Senior Space Policy Advisor. I will see you next week with the regular Planetary Radio and lots of great stuff coming up there as well. Thanks everyone and ad astra.