Planetary Radio • May 15, 2024

Day of Action 2024: The Planetary Society goes to Washington

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On This Episode

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Casey Dreier

Chief of Space Policy for The Planetary Society

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Bill Nye

Chief Executive Officer for The Planetary Society

Jack kiraly portrait 2023

Jack Kiraly

Director of Government Relations for The Planetary Society

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Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

Sarah al ahmed headshot

Sarah Al-Ahmed

Planetary Radio Host and Producer for The Planetary Society

Also in this episode:

  • Don Bacon, U.S. Representative from Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional district
  • Judy Chu, U.S. Representative from California's 28th Congressional district
  • Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator
  • Adam Schiff, U.S. Representative of California's 30th Congressional District
  • Victoria Tan, Space Advocate and Planetary Society member
  • Andrew Edwards, Space Advocate and Planetary Society member
  • Kai Jenkins-Mui, Space Advocate and Planetary Society member
  • Minghao Zou, Space Advocate and Planetary Society member
  • Lori Greenberg, Space Advocate and Planetary Society member

Every year, passionate space advocates from the United States travel to Washington, D.C., to ensure that their vision for the future of space exploration gets the funding and support it needs. Nearly 100 advocates gathered this year on Monday, April 29, 2024, to call for increased funding and better support for NASA's groundbreaking science programs. This week on Planetary Radio, we'll share what happened during this year's Day of Action and why it matters. You'll hear from members of The Planetary Society staff, space advocates from across the United States, and various congresspeople, including the co-chairs of the Congressional Planetary Science Caucus, Representatives Don Bacon and Judy Chu. We close out our show with Bruce Betts for What's Up and a new random space fact.

2024 Day of Action participants
2024 Day of Action participants Planetary Society members convened for a group photo on the roof of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center during their training for the 2024 Day of Action.Image: The Planetary Society
Sarah Al-Ahmed interviews Rep. Don Bacon
Sarah Al-Ahmed interviews Rep. Don Bacon Planetary Radio host Sarah Al-Ahmed interviews Rep. Don Bacon, one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Planetary Science Caucus, at the 2024 Day of Action.Image: The Planetary Society

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This is how we work for space in Washington D.C. Participants share their experiences from the 2023 Day of Action.


Sarah Al-Ahmed: Another year and another Planetary Society Day of Action, this week on Planetary Radio. I'm Sarah Al-Ahmed of The Planetary Society, with more of the human adventure across our Solar System, and beyond. Every year, passionate space advocates from the United States travel to Washington D.C. to ensure that their vision for the future of space exploration gets the funding and the support that it needs. Nearly 100 advocates gathered this year on Monday, April 29th, 2024 to call for increased funding and better support for NASA's groundbreaking science programs. Today we'll dive into what happened during this year's Day of Action and why it matters. You'll hear from members of The Planetary Society staff, space advocates from across the United States and various congresspeople, including the co-chairs of the Congressional Planetary Science Caucus, Representatives Don Bacon and Judy Chu. We'll close out our show with the great Dr. Bruce Betts for What's Up. If you love Planetary Radio and want to stay informed about the latest space discoveries, make sure that you hit that subscribe button on your favorite podcasting platform. By subscribing, you'll never miss an episode filled with new and awe-inspiring ways to know the cosmos and our place within it. This year was a little different from previous Days of Action, and not just because I was there for the first time. With NASA's space facing cuts for the first time in a decade and a proposed budget that doesn't quite meet the needs of the United States and ambitious space program, advocates found themselves energized to make their voices heard. They had a lot to say about supporting missions like Mars Sample Return, the Dragonfly mission to Titan, two missions to Venus, and the Habitable Worlds Observatory just to name a few. Advocating for NASA's space science funding is crucial, not just for people in the United States, but also for the global space community. NASA is the largest space program in the world, both in terms of budget and scope. Their leadership role is recognized globally, and NASA's innovations and scientific discoveries consistently push the boundaries of human knowledge. NASA's collaborative approach brings nations together in the spirit of scientific discovery, which is why space advocates gather each year to make their voices heard in the halls of the US Congress. Here's Casey Dreier, our chief of space policy to lay the scene. Hey, Casey.

Casey Dreier: Hey, Sarah. Good to be here.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: It's nice to be back from the Day of Action. That was really exciting. Had a great time.

Casey Dreier: Good. I was so glad you could join us this year, and I hope to have you every year now going forward. I hope you realize what you've signed up for with that first trip.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Well, honestly, I learned so much and if you'll have me, I'll be back every year because I think hearing people's stories has really motivated me. That experience of going back every year and being re-greeted by the people in the offices was really cool. What was it like for you finally being back after so much has changed with the Day of Action and finally getting to team up with Jack for this?

Casey Dreier: Yeah, I hadn't been in person since COVID, since February of 2020, and then last year I had a baby, or technically my wife had a baby, which is a big impact on my life. And this was the first time being back with Jack. It was wonderful. I mean, it was wonderful to see everybody. It was wonderful to work with Jack and to have that level. He had done it by himself the previous year and just did a great job, and so we had two experienced people, me and him working together to make this event happen in '24. It really made it great to work with and yeah, it was just fantastic. It was great to be back in Washington D.C., and again, I think we just had a wonderful Day of Action. And that added too, we had some real results to share and real outcomes that we were proud of.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: How many people did we actually have join us for the Day of Action from across the United States?

Casey Dreier: We had nearly a hundred people, and there's always a few people who just can't make it through family emergencies or travel issues or we ask a lot. It's a lot to come. People are coming there under their own volition. They have to pay their way. They're staying at a hotel, they're taking time off of work. It's honestly one of the most inspiring aspects of the Day of Action, of seeing how our members at The Planetary Society really just give so much to be there to step up and advocate for these things that they believe in. And it's just always really impressive. And about a hundred people, that's one of the largest, if not the largest advocacy days for space issues, much less space science. These members of The Planetary Society for the most part just are not space insiders. They're not space industry people, and this is actually one of the things we really encourage them to emphasize, and it's sometimes literally hard for members of Congress or their staff to understand to get it. That our members are there, not because they have any financial incentive in the policies we're advocating for. The Planetary Society doesn't get any extra money if we get a mission to Europa. We don't see anything except for the joy of discovery, and that's rare in Washington D.C. Most people are there because they need something or want something. We're there because we don't benefit directly, but we benefit as a society and our members are there to who really understand that, and that's very unusual. So it makes a big impact when we have about a hundred people coming from around the country to advocate for space and space science.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: It was also cool to see just the diversity among the group that came. We not only had people that had been there four or more years, but we also had young people, students from high school who brought their parents along with them to try to go to do this. I think they were really, really effective in advocating. I saw the look on people's faces. You can believe it when it comes out of the mouths of children and young people who truly care about this. And especially the ones who had all these NASA programs influence their lives within their schools, it was really wonderful to hear that.

Casey Dreier: I'm always impressed by the range of people we have. It does have an impact because it feeds into that story of NASA and space inspiring people, and then you have a walking talking representation of that. Members of Congress and their staff, I mean, the only thing they love more than maybe reelection is seeing young people get inspired by and wanting to be involved in our policies, our government. And to seeing them come in and bring their parents and speak so just committed and passionately about this, it does make an impact and that's always so wonderful about this experience. We have, as you said, first timers, we have experienced people who've done it... Some of them five or six times raised their hands and we asked. We've always had such good group dynamics and very supportive membership, and this is something we always really work on during our training. Two, is that we are here together. We're part of a society literally, The Planetary Society, and we really emphasize that space for all that we have opportunities here, but we're all here together to give opportunities for everyone to speak, to be supportive, to have a positive experience no matter your background. And that is, again, I think that really emphasizes that strength of our organization is emphasized when we go and we see that range of people participating.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: It was a particularly tough year too. I think the state of the budget for NASA has put out a lot of people in a very tense place. So having that happiness and that connectivity and that energy out of the group really helped us kind of persevere through it, I think, because it could have been really easy to be downtrodden about it, but instead we were all there together just spreading what we loved and you could see it reflected into the people we were talking with. I'm sure their days can be really tense, especially now. So it was a bit of a ray of sunshine coming on in there.

Casey Dreier: One of the best advantages we have as advocates is that we get to talk about space. We come into an office, who knows what they've been arguing about or talking about or worrying about. We come in and we say, "Hey, you know this literally the coolest thing that can possibly happen that we happen to do and we can do more of if we want to? Let's talk about that." And that tends to be a ray of sunshine or cosmic ray, whatever kind of space thing you want. In their day, it stands out and that helps us in a sense, punch above our weight because we are talking about something nonpartisan. We're talking about something optimistic. We're talking about something just fundamentally exciting and interesting. Members of Congress and their staff, they're people too, and they react to that. And that's one of our secret weapons in a sense of when we go into those meetings that we get to talk about something great and something that makes people feel excited and they leave those meetings and they say, "Wow, that's just... What a great..." They probably think about their day that was the best part of their day. And that's one of the ways that we try to emphasize and make this positive impression to build this broad consensus for pursuing space and space science within the broader government.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: What were our advocacy goals this year? Just to give people some context for what we were asking.

Casey Dreier: So this year we took a very science-first approach, and what I mean by that is that instead of focusing on some of the key missions is what we did last year, which we still care about. We kind of zoomed back to NASA's science directorate in general, and that's how we opened our conversations because one of the things that we've heard from our supporters and our colleagues and other organizations around Washington D.C. in the last year is that a lot of organizations, a lot of programs are hurting. So it's not just Mars Sample... Mars Sample Return is hurting probably the most. I think we can say that. They're going through the worst situation right now, but there's a lot of other missions in heliophysics, in astrophysics, in earth science and other obviously missions within Planetary Science that are having really hard times right now. We are trying to build this broader coalition to say, look, we can fight each other about who gets what scraps of federal funding as the Science Mission Directorate funding has been cut. Or we can try to work together and say, what if we just push back on the concept of cuts and say what we actually need... Look, we're all told what to do. We have the Decadal Survey processes for all of NASA sciences. We have direction from Congress written into law that NASA shall do these types of big missions, try to answer these big questions. It's not NASA's fault that inflation has happened and that Congress has cut their budget and things have become more expensive. And so we should say, here's what we need to do all the science. So that's our strategy this year, and that doesn't mean we don't care. We still care very much about Mars Sample Return, about the Habitable Worlds Observatory, about our Venus missions, about planetary exploration and planetary defense. But by starting with this way, we're building and working with a broader coalition. So we're doing a science-first strategy, trying to get science back up to $9 billion, and that's a big ask. We know that that is. We're not naive about this, but we say this is what we need. This restores all the cut missions. This puts back funding for the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which has been slashed. This provides enough funding to really rapidly restart Mars Sample Return and protect that workforce around the country that knows how to land on Mars, the only one. This restores funding for earth science and for heliophysics and just everything can come back. The 9 billion gets you there. And that's basically what NASA science had five years ago if you adjust for inflation and roughly what it was predicted to have next year before these cuts came through. There's a lot of arguments for this number, and so that's how we started with this broad support for science. We want to recommit United States to space science, and I think a lot of people resonated with that. We actually had a long with this goal, the leaders of the Planetary Science Caucus in Congress, Don Bacon from Nebraska and Judy Chu from California, and then a third co-signer actually, they released this letter, a third co-signer, Glenn Ivy from Maryland published a letter and asked for co-signatories from their fellow members of Congress saying literally the same thing, 9 billion for space science. And they released this on Friday right before the Day of Action, and on Monday our advocates went around the Hill, and this is one of the things they could argue for; co-sign this letter. Here's something you can do right now. The deadline was Monday. It was a very short turnaround.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: It did add a bit of a ticking time clock there to the entire day. We already had a purpose in mind, but trying to get as many people to sign that letter as possible really added some tension, I think.

Casey Dreier: Right. Look, that wasn't ideal, but it happened because there are timelines for when members of Congress have to submit formal appropriations requests to the committee that does appropriations, and that happened to be based on a number of factors we don't control or know in advance when we schedule the Day of Action, when the president's budget comes out, when the committee actions happen, when Congress is in session, all these variety of things come together. It just happened to line up. But I think we did a wonderful job for the three days that we had. We had members of The Planetary Society who live in the US may have gotten an email about this too. We had members write across the country to support this too. So that was what I love about this. The Day of Action, you have our members in Washington D.C. And then what we try to do is give everyone the opportunity in the US, because this is a US focused advocacy event, to send a letter to call their members of Congress at the same time. And so even if you can't go out to Washington D.C. this year or next year, you can take an action, you can call, you can send an email, you can contact your member of Congress and know that you're resonant with activities on the ground. You're supporting your fellow members of The Planetary Society, and so everyone has an opportunity to help out.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Well, we'll get into a few more of the results from this later on in the show, but before we do that, I just wanted to thank you and Jack for putting this all together. This was a colossal thing to have happen, especially after we were all going through the eclipse recently. Our whole team has been doing quite a lot together, but seeing it all come together so beautifully without a hitch almost, it was really wonderful to see.

Casey Dreier: Oh, that's good to hear. And we always try to get feedback from participants so we can always try to iterate and do better every year. And by the way, that's the nice thing about doing this every year. So we try to make it better. We try to make it more smooth. We try to give really neat opportunities like going to NASA headquarters and hearing you interview some of the NASA leadership for the members who were there, for going to really cool places around Washington D.C., for just meeting other members. Meeting Bill Nye, meeting our leadership and the board of directors. It's a very fun opportunity to do it, but thank you for that kind feedback. It means a lot to us that we ask a lot of our members to come and we hope that we give a memorable experience and that they go home knowing that they just didn't make a difference; they had a really great time doing it.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: As I said before, this was my first Day of Action. I've wanted to go for years and I'm so glad that I did. Let's flash back to March 28th. To prep everyone for the following day on the Hill, Casey Dreier, Jack Kiraly, our director of government relations, and our CEO, Bill Nye the Science Guy, helped lead a day of training and team bonding. Here's some bits of their presentations.

Bill Nye: So speaking of science, I like to remind people that in the US Constitution, which is available in paperback now, Article I is the role of Congress, the legislative branch. Then Section 8 of Article I is sort of the miscellany, like the post office and letters of mark. I don't know if you guys remember this. When you capture a ship on the high seas, who gets to keep the books? That's spelled out, that comes up. But Article I, Section 8, what they call Clause 8, is Congress shall promote the progress of science and useful arts. And I won't be surprised if you are in congressional meetings tomorrow where people have never read that Section 8, Clause 8 because it's buried. It's really a remarkable thing that the guys who wrote the Constitution realized the value of science way back then. We have these sample tubes with rocks in them sitting on the surface of Mars, and because of budget cuts, there isn't an agreed upon plan as to how to bring them back. But coming up with that plan is going to be a result of what we all can do tomorrow. So thank you all so much for coming. You guys, look at all these people here. Let's change the world. Over to you.

Casey Dreier: All right, thank you, Bill. Before I introduce very briefly so many great people, first, just to echo what Bill said. Jack and I are just constantly impressed by our members here at The Planetary Society. So thank you so much for coming and spending your time with us today and tomorrow. No other real science group or any professional society brings out the numbers we do for this. So you are the largest group of space advocates that hit the Hill every year. That is something very remarkable and I think speaks very much to the dedication of our members at The Planetary Society. So thank you again. We're going to talk about in addition to the work that you've already done with the background we've been sending out, Jack will give you kind of a rundown on what has been happening in the last few weeks, including a very exciting development for us that has evolved. You probably saw the action alert that went out on Friday with this new congressional letter that you will go out and be talking about on Monday where we can really push back on cuts to NASA science. We are a society of over 50,000 members and millions of other supporters. No single person shares exactly the same set of personal beliefs as anyone else, but we know we share values in common. And that's what we want to emphasize here today, or tomorrow and today, that when you walk into these offices, you're not just you, you are a member of The Planetary Society. You are representing you and the organization, you and our values. Passion. I think the fact that you're all here, you have and understand at a deep level. I don't need to explain to you about passion. Credibility is what we try to bring to all this discussion as well. And then the really key thing that I want to emphasize here is optimism and inclusion, which I think are two sides of the same coin. It's easy to be a cynic and it's actually very, I think, lucrative in our media environment to be a cynic. And I say this as not necessarily the most naturally optimistic person in the world, but space is by its design optimistic. You have to assume that tomorrow will exist because things are so far away that you have to be able to work with other people, that the math that you do will be the way that the world works, that Mars will be where it's supposed to be in eight months, and when you launch your rocket. Optimism is inherent you have to believe in when you do things in space. And seeing something launch into space for the pure reason of trying to understand some dot in the sky better, that is an optimistic experience and that is a rare thing I think in this culture that we have today. And this is in a sense, one of the ways that we as members when we're in these meetings, we get to be optimists. Even when things are frustrating, even when things aren't the way we want, we get to talk about things that are really exciting and really wonderful and unambiguously just exciting. That makes an impact. And I think that is one of the core... Later, when we talk about our group meetings and strategies, leaving that meeting and the impression that you give on those staff members or the members themselves, you want them to leave and say, "Wow, those members of The Planetary Society, they're really into this. I feel excited." Optimism is a key for that. And inclusion I think is part of this, and this is something I just want to bring up a little bit. The Planetary Society as a broad, optimistic and inclusive organization, we don't really lean into that global competitive aspect of it. I don't want to go to the moon just because another country's going to the moon. I want to go to the moon because the moon's awesome, because there's so much science to do with the moon, because it's greater for our species to go to the moon and to work together to do it. This is a rising tide, lifts all boats. You can basically uncancel all the science that canceled science missions and keep all the cut operating astronomy missions and start all these big new flagship missions. Will that work? We don't know, but we're optimists. So I turn it over to Jack. Thank you.

Speaker X: Woo. Go Jack!

Jack Kiraly: Hi, everybody. My name is Jack Kiraly. I'm the director of government relations for The Planetary Society. Let me just say this is a phenomenal group of people, so I want to give an opportunity to give yourselves a round of applause. And I really hope everyone did their reading ahead of this session. I'm kidding. That's the Decadal Survey. I think maybe collectively we've all read it. I want to say that echoing what Casey had said about optimism space in itself is an optimistic endeavor, space exploration, and it really is something that regardless of what state you hail from, what end of the ideological spectrum you're from, you are someone who cares about the future of our species exploring the cosmos.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: That night we had a wonderful dinner together and then we retired to prep our plans for the following day. It actually takes quite a bit of homework to understand what motivates people. If you want to be effective at communicating, it always helps learn more about the people you're going to be speaking with and what priorities help shape their actions, both for themselves and for the people they represent. The following morning, I had a little bit of a dream come true when I got to host a show at NASA HQ for all of the space advocates. We talked about all of the amazing space missions that we hope to advocate for, but then the work truly began, the space advocates met with their teams, and so began a day of talking about space and a hopeful future for everyone on earth with our representatives. In some cases, we actually got to meet with the senators and the representatives directly. In other cases, we met with their staffers who were actually equally as educated and enthusiastic on the subject. In between our meetings and scrambling through the tunnel system underneath Congress, we had some moments to retire to a break room and chill out. While I was there, I had a chance to speak with some of the amazing advocates that had taken their time to join us.

Victoria Tan: I'm Victoria Tan. I'm a high school senior. I come from Long Island, New York, and I plan on majoring in astrophysics in college. I think that's what really inspired me to come down and participate in the Day of Action because NASA's budget cuts or the planned budget cuts for what's upcoming in this fiscal year, I've seen a lot of support within my community personally from students who really want to go into STEM in the future for students who... I brought an organization that helps decimate STEM to underserved and underprivileged communities. And a lot of those programs that I helped bring to them are from NASA because they're free, they're easily accessible, and the budget cuts that are happening, were probably going to also target that education sector. And that's what's most important for helping to continue people's interests in STEM for including minorities and other underrepresented groups in this. So I believe that it was really important for me to come down and just show support, get my voice out there for all the communities that I serve on my organization, but also for my classmates, my friends, everyone that I touch in my life.

Andrew Edwards: My name is Andrew Edwards. I'm from Westchester, Pennsylvania, and this is my fifth year participating in the Day of Action

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Five years. What is it that motivates you to continue to come back for this event?

Andrew Edwards: Just how important it is, not just individually like why I might like space, but what it represents for everybody else, whether that's my home state, whether that's the country or even internationally. These are things that we're doing that nobody else is doing that are wholly unique and special. We want to make sure that we're able to carry them out, that we're able to excel when it comes to space and see where it takes us. Because when you look at any of these programs, any of these missions, it's not a one-time down payment, set it and forget it. It's something that takes years of prep work, years of building the spacecraft, launching it, years of getting to a destination, and then hopefully it's successful. And you have years of scientific work at your destination, and that takes time, that takes money over time. And any sort of interruption to that can kill a mission, can kill any sort of project. You could miss a launch window, you could just lose that momentum to get the spacecraft built. And that's really where the tragedy is. And especially if we've already paid money towards any particular program and then it just come to an end without really anything to show for it, that's what we're trying to prevent today. That's why we're here.

Kai Jenkins-Mui: Hi, I'm Kai. I came from Oberlin, Ohio where I am a college student. I am a philosophy major with an interest in politics. I am planning on going into law and especially space law is something that's super interesting to me. The, I guess, political science and political philosophy of space settlement is super interesting. I am like, I'm so thrilled to be in a position where once I'm graduating and maybe graduating from law school and moving out into the real world, I'll hopefully be able to make substantive differences in how all these, I guess, things I've been reading about in science fiction stories for so long come into actual existence.

Minghao Zou: I am Minghao. I came from all the way from California to Washington D.C. I go to school, currently a high school junior in the Bay Area. I go to Valley Christian High School, and I'm just here because I love space and I want to advocate for space. My passion. Actually, I was born in Beijing in China, so at that time there was fog and pollution everywhere. I couldn't see the stars. So every time I would see these pictures of the Milky Way or these brilliant swirls and nebula in space, I would always get really confused. I thought to myself, I look up in the sky, it's not there. If it's not there, then where are these things and are they really real? And then later as I grew up and I came to the US, I remember it was a pretty transformative experience. It was one snow camping night late at Tahoe, and then it was a new moon, so we were free from light pollution. And then it's in the night, my friends were all going back to the tent, and then I decided to stay outside. And I just remember seeing reflections on New York Pond and I look up and it was just the whole universe, the Milky Way just open up to me. And I think that was the moment I was like, "Yes, space is my thing and I really want to go into space." And then later I got really into physics, astrophysics. So I learned more about the technical aspects and that made me fell in love with the more I knew now how those planets that I was seeing worked and how those stars were able to sustain themselves. So I think this constant exploration and mystery really drives me to going to the space industry in the future.

Lori Greenberg: My name is Lori Greenberg and I'm here from Columbus, Ohio. There's four of us today, and this is the fourth year that my husband and I have done this together, and one of them was virtual. And every year it's been different people that have come along with us. So it's interesting. It inspires people differently, different years it seems. It's so meaningful though, and it's something that when I tell people about it at work, they're jealous and curious and all the things you hope they'll be, so you get a chance to talk about it a little bit. We've got several friends that have said, "Ooh, we want to go. We want to go." And so we're continuing to encourage them. So we hope we're going to have just this massive collection of people that we've eventually gotten to join us here at the Day of Action in the future when we finally get all of those people to commit to come and be part of the event. But we love coming back here and seeing Casey and seeing Jack and the familiar faces of many of those who have been here with us previously. And it starts to feel a bit like a family. And there are people you see once a year, but it's, "Hey, how you been? How's your family?" And I think it's that without even knowing people well, that basis of we all have this great love for something that matters to us, that you just kind of instantly have a connection.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: We walked and we talked and we shared our passion for space exploration with as many people as we could. Ultimately, the day drew to a close with everyone cheering and toasting to our success at a local restaurant. I had the privilege of meeting so many Planetary Radio fans and hearing what this Day of Action meant to them. While our primary group of advocates prepared to travel home the following day, those of us on The Planetary Society staff and members of our board of directors geared up for day two. We were joined by our president, Bethany Ehlmann, board members Dr. Jim Bell and Dr. Britney Schmidt, and Space for Humanity's executive director, Antonio Peronace. The day began pretty strong with the trip to meet Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA. Our visit was pretty brief because everyone was gearing up for a vote, but it was also hilarious. Here's Bill Nelson meeting, Bill Nye.

Bill Nelson: Bill.

Bill Nye: Bill.

Group: Bill.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: I'm pretty sure you can find that clip on Bill Nelson's social media. From there we went to see a series of officers, doubling down on the fantastic work of the advocates from the day before. Everywhere we went, people mentioned how beautiful it was to meet all the space advocates that had come the previous day. Congressman Adam Schiff, who's a Democrat that represents California's 30th congressional district, not only had an adorable dog in his office, but had this fun exchange with Bill Nye as they talked about why space funding matters.

Adam Schiff: I'm here with Bill Nye the Science Guy who is on the Hill with his colleagues from The Planetary Society to talk about space and science funding. So what's the deal?

Bill Nye: We want to get the Science Mission Directorate, SMD, at NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration up to the same level it was in 2020. That's like all in the weeds. That's the complicated thing. NASA does stuff that nobody else can do. We have rock samples sitting on Mars and little tubes like this one, and we want to bring them back to earth so that we can learn more about Mars's environment in ancient times and today. And I remind everybody moon rocks were collected 60 years ago and people are still studying them.

Adam Schiff: Yeah. Let me just add, if I can, that that Mars Sample Return is the highest priority of what's called the Decadal Survey. So every 10 years scientists get together, they decide what's the highest priority in this area for science. And bringing those samples back from Mars is number one, but we are going to work to restore that funding and make sure that we get that important science done.

Bill Nye: And along with that, we want to do the whole spectrum. We want to do all of the missions that are in the Decadal Survey. Nobody else does what NASA does. There's no business case for exploring the ice on Europa, the moon of Jupiter with twice as much water as the Earth. We want to go there and explore.

Adam Schiff: Because there are two very important questions we need to answer. And what are those?

Bill Nye: Oh, yes, everybody has asked these questions. And if you meet somebody who says he's never asked these questions, they're lying to you. And if they're in middle school, they're lying to your face, which is even worse. Where did we come from and are we alone in the universe? And if you want to answer those questions, you've got to explore other [inaudible 00:34:15].

Adam Schiff: Well, I can tell you this much Bill, walking the halls of Congress, I frequently ask, "Where did that go?" Well, that's it for today.

Bill Nye: Carry on.

Adam Schiff: Thank you so much for coming by.

Bill Nye: Good to see you.

Adam Schiff: Good to see you.

Bill Nye: Let's change the worlds.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: A few more meetings later, we were lucky enough to meet up with the co-chairs of the Congressional Planetary Science Caucus, Representative Don Bacon, who's a Republican from Nebraska's second district, and Representative Judy Chu, a Democrat from California's 28th district, which is where I live. The Planetary Science Caucus aims to educate members of Congress about planetary science and to advance policies that bolster efforts by government agencies, commercial partners, and nonprofits in space exploration. Let's hear from the co-chairs themselves, Don Bacon and Judy Chu.

Don Bacon: It's an honor to be one of the chairman. There's two of us: Republican lead and Democrat lead. I know space exploration is very important, first of all for science. We learn a lot from it. I think it's an economic engine as well and NASA's been a great partner. Always on time and under budget.

Judy Chu: Are there any space exploration things that you're really looking forward to in the future?

Don Bacon: Well, we're just talking about one. We want to get the rocks and minerals back from Mars so we can analyze it and see what Mars is all about.

Judy Chu: That's really wonderful to hear. Are there any upcoming priorities for you involved in space exploration and trying to advocate for it?

Don Bacon: Well, the main thing we have right now is we have some budget pressures. So we want to ensure that our budget and spending is adequate.

Judy Chu: I am so proud to have The Planetary Society in my district, headquartered in my district, and I also have Caltech and JPL. It is so exciting to see space exploration being done out of my district and to see the Mars sample project, the Perseverance. These are projects that have inspired the world and we see young people seeing what can be done in reaching to other planets, and I see their eyes light up and they are then inspired to go and pursue science in the future as well. So I just think that there is so much to be discovered and this is the way to do it.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: We'll be right back with the rest of The Planetary Society's Day of Action after this short break.

Bill Nye: Greetings, Bill Nye here, CEO of The Planetary Society. When you support The Planetary Society, you support space exploration. That means you are directly involved in making phenomenal moments in space exploration a reality. And that's why I'm seeking your participation in our Beyond the Horizon: Every Member Campaign. We're in the final phase of our five-year plan, and we are more than 85% of the way to our goal of raising vital funds that will expand our core mission and strengthen the society. This campaign is critical to our future as the world's leading citizen space advocacy organization. And with your help, we are supporting new science and technology. You will grow the society to make our collective voice on behalf of space advocacy even stronger across the globe. And we are connecting more people of all ages with the passion, beauty and joy of space exploration. Your gift of any amount today is an investment in the future and will help us usher in the next great era of space exploration. Let's go beyond the horizon. Let's make new discoveries. Let's keep going. Let's change the world.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Casey Dreier actually mentioned this earlier in the episode, but the timing for our Day of Action could not have been better. The week before, a bipartisan group of legislators led by Representative Glenn Ivey, a Democrat from Maryland, and Planetary Science Caucus co-chairs, Judy Chu and Don Bacon, began circulating a letter supporting funding for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. It was in line with all the advocacy goals that The Planetary Society was there to support. Here's Casey with the good news. Hey again, Casey.

Casey Dreier: Hi Sarah.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: So we about this a little bit early on, this letter from the House of Representatives and trying to get enough signatories on this to actually back up this idea that NASA needs this $9 billion amount of money in order to actually facilitate all of its programs. What number of signatories did we have starting out during the Day of Action and what number did we actually reach?

Casey Dreier: I think we had something like 17 or 18 the morning of the Day of Action. And then we got to 44 by the end of the Day of Action. So we increased it by more than a hundred percent just in that day. And that was a lot of effort by our members and then also members writing their members of Congress throughout the country. It was a very good outcome. And again, members of Congress don't do this easily, they don't put their name easily to things and 10% of the House of Representatives talking about an issue like space science, it's not a common... As much as we think it should be. I mean, of course space science should be the preeminent, if not the most important topic that we all talk about in politics. Somehow no one else necessarily agrees with that. And so, one of the big things is to increase its relevancy, increase its visibility. So 10% of the House of Representatives in three days to sign on to a significant increase in space science funding. That's a spectacular result. We're very happy with it. And it has made the news in space news and other space publications. It is getting the awareness that it deserves. And I think the message is clear to the appropriators now, who then this is the next big step is whether they listen to that. But it's a really good start of saying, "Hey, people care about this." And this is actually one of the big things. Why are we seeing cuts in space science at NASA and not to other areas? It's because usually people will say, "Oh, well, no one cares about space science that much." So it's easy to cut because it's seen as it won't cost any... We can put money towards other favorite programs. This shows that that's not true. People care about space science. And I think that's one of the most important starting points we can have going through this, what will be a very tough appropriations' series. So this was setting the groundwork. And something else I should just mention too, this letter was endorsed by The Planetary Society, but also endorsed by the American Geophysical Union, which is a professional science organization that represents earth and planetary scientists across the world, and then also supported by the American Astronomical Society, which supports and represents astronomers and astrophysicists across the world. So planetary, astro and earth, we have the entire cosmos represented here endorsing this letter. So it was a very good exercise in a collaborative big picture, coalition building opportunity that even if we have a tough year ahead of us, we are laying the groundwork. Jack and I, and particularly Jack as he's in D.C., is creating a lot of good relationships. And The Planetary Society intends to and continues to work very closely with other organizations to really try to, again, to create these in-phase resonance opportunities for advocacy where we try to get a lot of positive outcome in otherwise difficult times. So that's a long process, but this is a really good start to that.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: There are a lot of really wonderful moments during the Day of Action, so it's hard to pick my favorite. But I think that night after our first day of the Day of Action with all of the members there during the gathering, we had after the fact eating food and gathered around, Jack got to announce this result that we had that many signatories and everyone just cheering and having a great time. That's got to be one of the highlights for me.

Casey Dreier: Yeah, it's nice to see... I mean, that's a great opportunity to have that quick of a turnaround for something we're trying to do in the Day of Action to success. And that was really fun. And again, I think that what you just highlight there, this feeling of camaraderie and mutual support and this kind of group dynamics of coming in person and doing this in D.C., one of the real big value propositions of just doing the Day of Action as a member of the society, it's really fun.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: I could definitely tell that people were a little bit more nervous early on in the day, but as we went, people kind of got their groove. They learned how they could speak and how to kind of volley off of each other. And then in the break room, there was a board up that allowed people to pick drop-in meetings. So even after people had gone through all their assigned meetings, they were so motivated that they were going through just trying to check the boxes, trying to hit every person in Congress they could to share that message. And by the end of it, you could just tell everyone was just electrified. It was really cool to see.

Casey Dreier: Yeah, we give lots of opportunities to scale up if you want. So we book a number of meetings with you and your representatives, but everyone always has, at the end of the day, two senators and one House representative. So we want you to have more to do than just three meetings. So some people are in multi-groups with a variety of representatives that go to lots of meetings, but we've started to do drop-in meetings where you can say, "Hey, you charged up." As I said, you're all practiced now. You've got your pitch, you've got your materials. Go forth and advocate so that you can claim these kind of strategically selected representatives or members of the Senate and go into their offices and do those quick drop-ins and just leave our materials so you can hit as many offices as you want. So we had many, many dozens of those covered this year, and we are incentivizing that. We have little prizes for the more that you do. Again, it said, the more you're there, you can just advocate. And you're right. People start the day kind of, "Is this how this works? And by the end, you couldn't tell them apart from the biggest K street lobbyists, strutting down the halls of Congress. They're all on fire. So it's a very impressive transformation, but you get that confidence. People get good at what they do doing this.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Do we know whether or not there's going to be an equivalent letter for the Senate coming out soon?

Casey Dreier: We are working with supporters in the Senate on a very similar letter, and my understanding is that that is in progress. We can't say too much more than that until hopefully it's out. But the intent is that there will be a complimentary letter in the Senate, which will be, again, very important. The Senate timelines are different than the house. All spending legislation starts in the House of Representatives. The Senate always acts later. So we're well in time with that, but yes, there should be complimentary broad-based support and language moving forward.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: I felt so empowered not just to talk about space and advocate for that, but also to advocate for all the other things I care about. It really kind of broke down a lot of those walls and that intimidation around the thing. So I already took a moment to thank you and Jack, but I'd also like to take a moment to thank all of the space advocates that were there because I learned so much from them, from the people that had been there so many times. And it was wonderful to have these people to lean on and share in that growth process.

Casey Dreier: Well, that's wonderful to hear, and I really resonate with you on the idea that it just adds confidence to you as a citizen and a democracy. Not to be an old man yelling at a cloud kind of a thing here, but I do wish that we had more civics education back in high school and elementary school even. So you learn that you can do this and that people welcome it actually. It's not particularly again for these broader topics, but even for contentious topics. But I think just as important in a way is learning to come to terms with other people want other things too. And this whole complex, messy process is about trying to find some point of balance between all of those. But you have the right to say what you believe, and if you don't say it, you have no idea what someone else will, whether they will echo that or be completely opposite. Without being a part of that system, in our democracy, and particularly in this country, no one is going to ask you for your input. You have to kind of take that on yourself. And so that's one of my secret hopes from the Day of Action and doing space advocacy in general, is that we just develop and build out more engaged citizens overall because that's a good thing.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yeah, we don't know what the result will be or whether or not we'll get that money restored for NASA, but I do feel like we did something great together and whether or not we get the outcome we want, we're just going to keep trying because that's what we're all about. And I'm just so inspired by everyone involved in this. This was a really cool thing.

Casey Dreier: I think that's the essence of it. We don't know if this will work, but you can't say we did not try. We cannot control the full scope of the US spending process. It's a big process. Many different layers of politics going on. Huge thing. And no single person can. That's the point of it. But what we do have control over is how hard we work to make sure that our message is part of that conversation. And so by going to the Day of Action, by running a year-round advocacy effort that Jack and I do in Washington D.C. and throughout the country, by staying engaged, by spreading this message that's optimistic and exciting and positive and fundamentally transformative in understanding the cosmos and our place within it, we have control over that. And our intention is to never stop doing that because sometimes it will work or it'll take years, or maybe it works this year, who knows? But if you don't do it, it's not going to work. So let's do the thing we have control over and stay engaged and spread this message of, as Bill says, always the PB&J, passion, beauty, and joy of space, because my goodness, why not?

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Thanks so much, Casey.

Casey Dreier: Anytime Sarah.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Who knows how this whole thing's going to turn out? But I do know this: If we all keep working together, I think we're all going to have a really beautiful future for space exploration. Now let's check in with Dr. Bruce Betts, the chief scientist of The Planetary Society. Hey, Bruce.

Bruce Betts: Hey there Sarah.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Back from Washington D.C. in my first Day of Action. That was an adventure.

Bruce Betts: Did you act? Was there action?

Sarah Al-Ahmed: There was action. Now I actually got to do a show on the stage at NASA headquarters. It was really fun. I had a great time. Have you been to one of the Days of Action before in person?

Bruce Betts: No, I have not been in one of our Day of Actions, although many moons ago I did work in the NASA headquarters building, so that's something.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: How long did you work there?

Bruce Betts: Three years. Many other moons ago, even more moons ago, I worked with lunar samples and taking spectra of them in the lab, and it's kind of trippy to know that you're handling pieces of the moon, or in this case, a bunch of regolith dust from the moon.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: I imagine you need some really thick gloves for that. That stuff is like a bunch of razor shards.

Bruce Betts: We had a powder. It had already been sieved.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: That's also exciting because the Chang'e-6 mission, the Chinese mission just left to go to the far side of the moon to return samples from that side of the moon for the first time ever. So that'll be cool. Hopefully we all get to see the results from that.

Bruce Betts: Yeah, I bet they're gray.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: I also got some really great feedback this week about our recent episode about Doctor Who and inspiring people in the space community through that show. And I just wanted to share at least one of these comments because as a fan of that show it's been making me really, really happy to see the reaction. But Laura Monahan from California said that it was a fantastic conversation, and Russell T Davies seems like a lovely person, and they were especially happy about the discussion we had about diversity and increasing representation in this iteration of Doctor Who, which is also very true of the space community. It's a cool time. What's our random space fact this week?

Bruce Betts: Random space fact... As of now, so May 2024, there have been over 300 flights to the International Space Station, over 300 flights, 164 uncrewed and 140 crewed since they started building it in '98, started occupying it in 2000.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: I can't even imagine how that number might change as we end up with a lunar gateway or something like that, and all of these commercial space entities that can start shuttling people into space. Wild.

Bruce Betts: We shall see.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: I know, right? We still have to live through the end of the International Space Station and then actually building the lunar gateway. So there's a lot that we need to accomplish.

Bruce Betts: And we're relying on you, Sarah.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: It's all in my shoulders.

Bruce Betts: Yes, it is.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: At least on the advocacy of, I guess, people like me now and other space advocates. I feel like there's something so special about being a part of that. How many of these awesome space missions would never happen without all these people who are willing to give their time and their money and their voices to it?

Bruce Betts: I don't know how many.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Probably zero.

Bruce Betts: Whoa.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: But I'm sure you've seen a lot of missions that we've played a role in influencing whether or not they get built, you know?

Bruce Betts: Yeah, there are ones we've played very significant roles, and then obviously there's always different players. So we're not the only one, but we are the one that brings the people, the members, the support from around the country, around the world. I'm glad you all had a productive and fabulous time in beautiful Washington D.C.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Next time you should come along. Someone actually asked me if you were going to be there, and I was like, "Oh, no."

Bruce Betts: Yeah, but they were threatening to leave if I showed up. You didn't say that part. All right, everybody, go up there. Look up in the night sky and think about rain, clouds, and the darkness that they bring to your world. Thank you. Good night.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: We've reached the end of this week's episode of Planetary Radio, but we'll be back next week with something a little different, a peek into the realm of robot battle leagues and how they're prepping the next generation of planetary science roboticists. If you love the show, you can get Planetary Radio T-shirts at, along with all other sorts of cool spacey merchandise. Help others discover the passion, beauty and joy of space science and exploration by leaving a review and a rating on platforms like Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Your feedback not only brightens our day, but helps other curious minds find their place in space through Planetary Radio. You can also send us your space thoughts, questions, and poetry at our email at [email protected]. Or if you're a Planetary Society member, leave a comment in the Planetary Radio space in our member community app. Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by our dedicated members and space advocates. You can join us and help support amazing space missions around the world at Mark Hilverda and Rae Paoletta are our associate producers. Andrew Lucas is our audio editor. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. And until next week, ad astra.