Planetary Radio • Oct 11, 2019
Space Policy Edition: Happy Fiscal New Year!
On This Episode
Chief of Space Policy for The Planetary Society
Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society
October 1st kicked off federal fiscal year 2020—a day that should also have kicked off a new budget for NASA. But Congress has not funded the space agency yet, instead passing a temporary stopgap measure to keep the government open until November 21st. Brendan Curry, The Planetary Society's Chief of D.C. Operations, joins the show to discuss the latest political developments in Washington, good news for planetary defense, and how the funding delay could spell trouble for the space agency's 2024 lunar goal.
NOTE: This automated transcript is currently being edited by a human. Check back soon for updates.
[00:00:00] Reading space Advocates. This is the space policy edition of the planetary radio coming too. Well, okay one week late, but still here in October to review all that is happening within the Beltway in Washington DC and elsewhere that affects how we will explore and do other things in space. That's why we get together each month with this special edition of the show.
I'm at Kaplan the host of planet to a radio welcoming you back and also welcoming back a couple of my colleagues case you dryer. Our chief Advocate is here as he is for all of these programs right from the start Casey good to talk with you. Oh as always met five weeks since the last episode of space [00:01:00] policy addition, I think.
Not that much has happened. So I think this will be a quick episode. You think well, they helped us get through that tiny amount of new developments that that is Brandon Currie our chief of Washington operations Brendan who is actually based there within the Beltway Brandon. Welcome back because it's great to be back with you happy to do it and looking forward to a good conversation with everybody.
Casey somehow I suspect that we are going to have plenty to talk about largely because you've laid it out the two of you have laid it out. It actually has been a pretty busy five weeks. But before we get to that, let's start with encouraging anybody out there who has still not taken the plunge and become a member of the planetary Society.
Why don't you visit us at planetary dot org slash membership check out the benefits the biggest benefit of all being what these two guys and my other colleagues at the society do to keep us in the game in space [00:02:00] exploration, too. Stay on top of things in DC and help Drive. The things that are being talked about in DC that are within the mission the agenda of the planetary Society agenda that we hope you share that's where you can learn about all the benefits and sign up.
Join us. It's planetary dot org slash membership. But Casey, I know that you've got at least a couple of other things that are pretty important to you beginning with that day of action. Yeah, if you want to take more than just a step to be a member or want to really level up your space. Advocacy Ness.
Say that that's a word the day of action is coming up in 2020. The registration is open. That is the day when planetary Society members from across the United States come to Washington DC. They join me and Brendan they train to prepare themselves and engage with Congress directly in support of space exploration it [00:03:00] is.
By number of surveys demonstrated to be the most effective way to influence members of Congress as showing up directly and telling them as a constituent what you believe in in this case. Space exploration and the search for Life planetary defense are real core focused issues here at the planetary Society come to DC with us and we'll make you the best Advocate you can be and you'll really make a difference.
That's February 9th and 10th of 2020. And you can sign up right now save a few bucks. If you do it before January 1st at planetary dot org slash day of action all one word. You can find it on our website find testimonials learn about the experience. It's a lot of fun and really really really does make a statement.
About the importance of these issues to the people who really control the future based on funding and fundamental us space policy and Casey is you know, I hope to join you there. I hope that that [00:04:00] works out Brendan. This is what you do on a daily basis what's special about the day of action for someone like you who's always Walking The Halls of Congress?
Yeah. I just want to Echo what Casey said as a former Congressional staffer? There is a special special connection and impact when you actually have a constituent from your congressional district or your state normal everyday taxpaying Americans come in and tell you that they're taking time out of their their work schedule juggling childcare.
And traveling all the way to Washington and taking the time to tell you that they want to see that member of Congress or that Senator vote for a positive NASA budget in a positive direction for America's space efforts. I cannot stress that enough. It's one thing if as a congressional staffer or member of Congress your visited by a paid for lobbyists.
I'm not a lobbyist case. He's not a lobbyist the planetary Society. We [00:05:00] are an independent nonprofit. We don't have any lobbyist on retainer. So the fact that in my day-to-day life I can go up to folks and be an honest broker and talk about what's good for for space But even more so to have our members from across the country.
Come down really does make a statement one of the things I want to also emphasize is that. Last year, we did it in March this year as case. You mentioned we're doing it in February, which is a great time of year believe it or not to do it because we will at that point of just had a State of the Union Address.
The president's budget submission will have been sent the Congress. So we're. Going to be showing the professionals and Capitol Hill that we ourselves are Professionals in the what we're doing getting out there right at the start of the Congressional session when budgets are being analyzed and hearings will start to happen and the Congressional Appropriations process will start.
We're going to be in on the ground floor of that. And so I think that speaks [00:06:00] volumes about what we're doing as an organization and what the the wonderful men and women who are members are going to be doing in February with Casey and I plus it's just great fun. Yes. Yes, we try to do that too.
Right Casey. We do have meat where people get together. We have meetups before and after the event we have special. Opportunities to engage with Folks at Nasa and special presentations by scientists. It's yeah, we try to make it an event worth your time. No matter what your meetings are. Like if they're positive or negative though.
They usually tend to be positive and I think just a final point on this just to keep in mind. As what Brendan said is that there are people going up and talking to their members of Congress every day about space issues. You won't always agree with them particularly if they have an agenda or their lobbying on the behalf of an industry that stands to benefit from a particular policy coming as a member of the planetary society as a member of the public as a [00:07:00] member of you know, an independent organization.
You get a chance to add your voice to that too. Because if you don't do it someone else will and you have no idea what they're advocating for. So it's good to be heard in that context. So really consider coming its planetary dot org slash day of action. You can learn all about it at that address and sign up there.
Casey there is one other event that we can talk about before we get to the news of the last few weeks. And this is about a really thrilling mission that we have talked about several times on the weekly planetary radio episodes and and will continue to. Yeah, absolutely. This is dragonfly our new so-called mid-sized planetary Mission.
It's a quad copper that's going to be sent to the Saturn's moon Titan to fly around I still can't believe they're doing this fly around and explore, you know, just like explore the surface and and really completely. Rewrite, I'm sure we'll ever the textbooks say about [00:08:00] Titan that launches in 2026, I believe and it will won't get there until the 2030s but this is a major planetary science Mission a very exciting Mission and a perfect concept or topic to discuss with this planetary science caucus that we helped put together this year and I'll turn it over to Brendan because he's one really responsible for this.
This caucus again is made up of members of Congress who have effectively just raised their hands saying that I care about planetary science issues the search for life and how these impact universities and my local district and they're just excited about it and and Brendan really use this opportunity to connect them to the people who work on dragonfly.
It was a great event. Now you hear about things that are congressional committees and caucuses are a little different animal than the Congressional committee congressional committees. They drafted legislation. They appropriate funding for agencies. They [00:09:00] conduct oversight hearings. Caucuses are little bit more informal.
They're a group of members of Congress who share an interest in wanting support something. There's a hunting and fishing caucus there is a sea power caucus about raising awareness about children with autism and things like that. And so the planetary science caucus is co-chaired by Derek Kilmer Democrat.
From Washington and Steven Palazzo republican from Mississippi and that's one of the nice things about these caucuses because I think a lot of times people see mainly through cable news and social media, they see Congressional activity and it's a very visceral heated partisan event or exchange going on in one of the nice things about space in general is that it's blessedly.
Still very much a bipartisan belief that both Republicans and Democrats share, so it's nice but it's nice to have this caucus where we have at least [00:10:00] 45 members right now both the house and the Senate and Republicans and Democrats that care about space and care about the things that the members of the planetary Society the folks who are listening today.
They believe in care about the same things. And so Casey and I were talking and we the dragonfly Mission just got awarded. We were like wow, this is a really cool Mission. We are friends with some folks up at the Applied Physics lab in Maryland. Not too far out of Washington DC APL is going to be doing most.
Of the work for dragonfly and so we went to them and said hey you guys want to come down the Capitol Hill and do a breakfast briefing about this dragonfly. Misha didn't explain it a little bit more and get people excited about it want to be supportive of it. So we had about at least half a dozen people from JPL come down and we had a packed room in the Rayburn building.
It was so well attended I had to ask the caterer to set up extra chairs around the perimeter room to [00:11:00] accommodate everybody and it was just a positive Gathering of folks that we're hearing about a super cool exciting Brash daring mission to. An exotic Moon that floats around Saturn which made people consider the crown jewel of our solar system and our CEO Bill Nye was good enough to come into town and give remarks as well.
And of course he did a million selfies, but you know, he's used to that. So it was it was just it was just a great event and we were proud to work with our friends at APL Casey and I are. As we speak talking about programming for the next caucus event in working with folks. As a matter of fact, there was folks from NASA Legend legislative affairs who they're the folks at NASA headquarters that interface with members of Congress and their staff approached me about maybe working with NASA on.
Something for a planetary science caucus event down the road. So that's great. It should so it is especially this day and age [00:12:00] with the hyper-partisanship going on. It was just great to see everyone get together to talk about something hopeful exciting in future looking. Forward future looking in science and technology, which is great all-around everyone.
Everyone walked out of that room and started the day with a warmth excited feeling inside. This is such a great example of the kind of advocacy work that that goes on because of the existence of the planetary Society because of the support of our members. It is a thrilling Mission. I'm going to make a correction.
I was corrected by the dragonfly principal investigator Zippy Turtle up there at APL when I called it a quadcopter. It's an octocopter. That's it has eight little propellers to help it fly over the Frozen surface of that world. That is in. Every way except for temperature so much [00:13:00] like our own Earth and in that it has flowing fluids on the surface and canyons and sees it Rivers.
It's it's just going to be amazing and I'm glad we were there in DC to help bring the good news about it to all those folks in Congress and it really is something that it's a simple idea that. I very much believe in Congress members of Congress and their staff are constantly inundated with information with requests with proposals with with topics from every imaginable aspect of US policy.
From agriculture to city planning to Urban Development to healthcare policy. You name it? Right? So in a sense the fundamental challenge for any group trying to advance some sort of broad agenda like the planetary Society to expand human and robotic presence in space. We have to compete for their awareness, right we have to compete for their just [00:14:00] attention.
And the nice thing about space exploration is that it's really easy to get your attention. And so the act of doing these things on a regular basis of having these caucuses your building in the infrastructure to create these opportunities to bring members of Congress and their staff face-to-face.
They have these face-to-face interactions with the scientists and Engineers who are responsible. For some of the most exciting things that we can do as a species in some ways. Our goals are as simple as that is to is to facilitate those interactions to create this excitement these positive feelings.
So when they make these decisions, About how to fund things like NASA planetary science. They know they have these personal connections. They understand the motivations the context of the science and ideally it will help increase the flow of funding and priorities for these types of things. So this this work and again, it's just that face-to-face connection Priceless [00:15:00] well said, It was just Congressional folks were there.
We had folks from industry and we have people from the Japanese space agency the French space agency and even some folks from the Pentagon. Attending so it was it was a very diverse group of folks who were interested in what we were doing fascinating that the French the the knesset I assume was was represented as well.
That's very cool Gentlemen. Let's go on to the news and I want to wish both of you are happy Federal fiscal New Year. Of course, we're a week and a half into it now and it's so good to know that the Senate the house. The White House all got together and there are some beautiful budget in place that will take us through the next year, right?
Oh Matt, thank you know better than that in mydriasis. We don't have the The Bouncing baby New Year. Fiscal New Year budget baby is not a little late. On delivery again, not unsurprising or unexpected. I believe we [00:16:00] mentioned this last time we spoke mat or yeah, I'm sure to get on the regular planetary radio.
But yes, so usually or maybe not usually is the wrong word. Technically the u.s. Is supposed to have a budget by October 1st of every year that's beginning of our fiscal year. So we're technically in fiscal year 2020 is offset by the calendar year by three. And didn't happen. There's a number of reasons for that the biggest probably being the delay of the agreement on overall spending available to Congress for discretionary programs.
Didn't really get hammered out until late in the summer. So even though the house had provided a NASA proposed budget in response to the president's budget for 2020 earlier this year in May the Senate hadn't really done anything. Until I think they released their budget late-september. So just a week before the fiscal New Year.
That's not enough time for the Senate and the house to then try to hammer out their differences between the two bills. And so we are in [00:17:00] again what's called A continuing resolution the extension of last year's budget. Right now through November 21st. So a two-month basically extension to give them some breathing time to compromise on the two different budgets one from the house one from the Senate take us through where we are because they both have come up with their own ideas.
How does it look as you look across these two proposals that are I take it they're similar, but certainly not. It is in a sense has surprisingly at a certain level quite similar based on the president's budget request which came out at there were actually two president's budget request this year very unusual situation because of the sudden announcement of the 2024 lunar Landing initiative the White House released a supplemental request requesting more money for NASA later on than than the its original request, but a White House budget proposed to cancel a bunch of missions.
At Nasa [00:18:00] both the house and the Senate completely reject those cancellations uniformly. Hmm. And so in that sense, they're very similar and then the do differ on some important parts that particularly around how to spend money on the lunar initiative and also some heavy lift SLS and a few other small programs, but Brendan wanted to jump in there as well.
It's to kind of talk about some of these differences. All I was going to say was that I was at a NASA headquarters meeting with the CFO. And obviously the the Appropriations bills were item. Number one the Senate Bill overall does. A bit better for NASA there is some feeling that funnily enough in the end what it comes out of What's called the conference committee where the House and Senate kind of iron out their differences the bill and harmonize the legislation that the final number may be even better for NASA.
So everyone seemed to be in a decent Spirits over there. The one funny thing I was telling [00:19:00] Casey about this the NASA budget is in a. Spending vehicle that includes the Commerce Department in the Justice Department a one of the goofy areas of between these two different bills. The house bill in the Senate bill is how the house designated funding for the Commerce department for the census in the Senate did it in different way and what's exasperated for us in the space Community is that number one?
It's not a space issue. That is at play here that. You know driving us nuts and impacting everyone's favorite space agency NASA, but doing it at census every 10 years is one of those things that are enumerated in the Constitution that the government supposed to do. So this isn't this shouldn't be a surprise for anyone that there had to be a census to get ready to pay for.
So it's just it's just DC wackiness. Yeah, just to add some context to that back in the early about 12 or 13 [00:20:00] years ago. Now Congress kind of moved where NASA was book kept in terms of congressional committee Appropriations funding and NASA was moved into this new committee called Commerce Justice and science which is obviously a grab bag right because Commerce and Science and justice department at all.
Just kind of there's no real thread connecting those agencies together the chunk of money each. These subcommittees that funds federal agencies gets a chunk of money called an allocation and then they have to within that chunk of money provide funding to all of their responsible organizations that they're responsible for.
So in what Brennan is saying here that because Commerce Department runs the census. The census runs every 10 years in a cost a lot of money billions of dollars more than 10 billion dollars to run the census. There's a big hump of spending increased required to this can constitutionally mandated activity by the federal government.
So it's very strange. If your overall size of your allocation to this [00:21:00] committee does not grow to accommodate this requirement of the senses it really squeezes. All the other agencies including NASA because they have to kind of work. It's like a snake swallowing this big let's say opossum or something through it.
It's the census funding. Ironically you have these based on these classic policy interesting actually very fascinating aspects of this but it's classic situation where the very structure of how Congress decides to fund things like NASA. Can impact the ability of funding to appear based on needs totally unrelated to the space program, but that Fallout as a consequence of self-organization.
So in this case, it's the senses, you know case you alluded to it. I was one of the appropriation staffers that made that was part of that change that he alluded to it was worse before because NASA used to be included in an account that dealt mainly with Veterans Affairs. In the housing Urban Development agency.
So [00:22:00] NASA was always pitted against the funding for our veterans in funding for people who need public housing the politics in the Optics of it were quite vicious at the time and while it's not ideal to have it in Commerce. Justice account it's better than it used to be Believe It or Not. Wow, can we drill down a little bit?
I mean, can you talk a bit more about funding for Science and science Mission specifically? Yeah, let's step back a we should clarify where the Senate bill is. So in this context it just to give maybe some of these contrast as well. Then we'll get to the science aspect Matt because it is important to acknowledge to put top lines here.
With the to request the White House requested about a 5% increase to NASA's budget for this next fiscal year about twenty two point six billion is what they asked for the house provided 22.3 slightly less the house provided no funding for the lunar [00:23:00] initiative. They restored all the science programs.
They boosted earth science in particular. The Senate that just had its Bill proposed Bill come out a couple weeks ago. They have a top line of 22.8. So on the higher side, that's great that money goes to it. Also again, I said uncanceled or funds all the proposed missions that were cancelled by the White House.
And it really provides about 750 million dollars for a lunar lander program and bumps up the SLS program pretty high as well. Like Beyond where the White House even requested. So in a sense the 22.3 in the 22.8 house in the Senate numbers over all those are all very good relatively speaking to last year.
They're all increasing and as Brandon said we're in a happy situation where the compromise might just to be. To give NASA even more which I am fully behind by the way, and I encourage them to do that and So within this increased budget you have a little more [00:24:00] Breathing Room internally to the science directorate.
Both the House and Senate increase science funding the kind of move them around in slightly different ways. The biggest difference is that the Senate provides even more money for the James Webb Space Telescope than was requested by the White House or provided by the house. That is to help get the James Webb Space Telescope through these last couple of years and that we all hope is the last two years of development as problems have mounted on that mission.
They kind of bring down planetary science a little bit which I'm concerned about and then they also provide funding for w first both of them the wide-field infrared Space Telescope survey telescope that is going to hopefully now launched in the mid 2020s. It has been proposed to be canceled and uncanceled by Congress for the last three years in a row at this point.
So I hope the White House gets the message that this future Space Telescope is very important. Where does [00:25:00] this leave Artemis the administration's plan to put humans back on the moon with some funding for a Lander from the Senate as you said though. I'm not sure if it's going to get them very far and none from the house.
Just to put this in context the White House ultimately requested a billion dollars to build a Lander just for this next fiscal year to start building a Lander the house gave them nothing and the Senate is proposing to give them three quarters of what was requested historically what spacecraft development project has ever gone on time.
When it received less than its needed funding, I think the answer is zero of them giving the Senate even acknowledging the request but giving less is basically saying that the 2024 deadline. Is not being taken seriously in my opinion. Okay. Well, that was my next question on the other hand and I don't disagree with with Casey's assertion on the other side of the street over at NASA [00:26:00] headquarters.
They're trying their best to move ahead on. On Lander development. They want to quote soon. We'll see what that means start awarding Lander contracts to three maybe four providers and then eventually down selected to it's almost like they're being willfully ignorant of the smoke signals are getting across the street from Congress.
We'll see where that goes. There's also some stuff with the lunar lander program being assigned to be managed by Marshall space flight center in Alabama, which did not sit. Well with the Johnson space flight people in Texas in the meantime afterwards. The Orion Management duties have been assigned now officially to JSC.
Johnson Space Center it out and we should for anybody who in our audience the small number who don't know Orion, of course is that capsule that is has been under development for many years and appears to be making [00:27:00] pretty good progress. Finally that will be an important part of getting humans back to the moon or anywhere Beyond low earth orbit.
It's worth dwelling on this for a minute. So let's kind of talk about this in a larger context that this Artemis implications from where we are budgetarily and as Brendan pointed out these political consequences of trying to implement this new high-profile large scale program. In the US Senate and Congress more probably but NASA is being told by the White House to move forward very quickly, but at a fundamental level and I think we've seen this now from the president who has given I would say significantly mixed signals about the value of a moon program compared to a Mars human Mars program.
NASA still is being told to move fast congress's hesitating and I would point out to the. Partisan aspect of this is that the house is run by the Democratic party. No fan of the president [00:28:00] obviously and not very much disposed to fund a presidential initiative that's tightly aligned with the partisan leader of another political party right there.
That's just fundamental political issues. We've seen repeated statements from the Democratic leaders in the house that they haven't received. Good enough excuses from NASA or the White House why a 2024 Landing needs to happen. That's certainly driving the some of the fact that they haven't provided any funding in their bills.
The Senate obviously is run by the Republican Party more disposed to support the presidential initiative. But at the same time you see them exercising their own initiative in terms of what their priorities are. So the very fact that you saw the lunar lander. Request underfunded and then provided even more money beyond that difference to the space launch system, which is a big Senate priority.
You see them basically saying the [00:29:00] same thing that they're not necessarily feeling that urgency around a 2024 Landing but at the same time despite this NASA still has to execute the White House's. Frogger death right there part of the executive branch. So we're stuck in kind of a bad situation and we're seeing this now.
So NASA lunar lander. The Proposal is out there accepting proposals. I should say they said they're going to select by November 1st coming up. So maybe we'll be able to talk about this next week next month, but they've already had to relax a lot of important programmatic constraints that I think really validated the effort.
So two key items being that you have to dock with the Gateway orbiting space station at the moon and that the lunar lander has to be reusable. Those have both been. Pushed into an optional status for these first lunar Landers. And so there's a real possibility that NASA may be trying to move forward with a lunar lander program that will be a technical dead end for [00:30:00] long-term Mars exploration.
And that is the whole purpose of Designing these lunar missions not just in our opinion at the planetary Society but as stated by the president, so this 2024 deadline I feel is becoming increasingly. Problematic in terms of that timeline pushing poor choices for long-term enduring aspects of this design.
And we have heard administrator bridenstine tell us and by the way, I have sympathy for his his position between this rock and a hard place. Yes. I think that are actually between a moon and a planet that make no mistake. He said our focus is Mars, but the evidence seems to be beginning to counter that Casey brings up a good point about the.
Fungibility of different technical requirements for lunar lander and as he was mentioning [00:31:00] those it was evocative to me in case he you may have different different thoughts but I just felt like it was Déjà Vu with respect to SLS because there were a number of years where we were going through this.
Well, we are will Li not have an initial upper stage and just go right to an exploration upper stage or know we have to have one or the other when both that makes me a little antsy. The fascinating aspect of this is the original White House budget request deferred this this second stage upper stage development program for the SLS cut back on it.
You heard Mike Pence the vice president. Kind of implicitly critique Boeing for its poor performance for the SLS development as that most people know it's years behind schedule. Very expensive rocket generally seems to be I think falling behind the technological curve. We're seeing from a lot of modern rocket development programs at the same time.
Ultimately the consequence appears to be more [00:32:00] funding for that program from its strongest Congressional supporters. And I think we've seen that not just in the Senate but in the house and a good example of how some of these projects themselves have and serve different needs than you would just kind of design out of whole cloth and wrap your starting point, right?
There's a lot of politics wrapped up in this and so it will be somewhat ironic but not unpredictable that the consequence of originally going may be undermining or pulling back or cutting the SLS. Will be a higher SLS budget provided by Congress at the end of it Congress does have a few other things on its mind.
So let's talk about the the elephant and the donkey in the room and the fact that everybody in DC is really just talking about one topic right now and that's impeachment space exploration. Yeah, don't we wish. How is this affecting not just the sort of Appropriations work that we've been talking [00:33:00] about for space but but everything that's going on in DC.
It's not as dramatic as. You would it's being portrayed outside of Washington it really I mean it's there clearly, but it's not this Aaron Sorkin screenplay being played out from behind closed doors or something like that. It really isn't I used to work as a staffer out of law school and the house Judiciary Committee.
During the Clinton impeachment that was literally the center of the political Universe in Believe It or Not Congress was able to pass authorization bills. The president who was being impeached dutifully signed into law. Appropriations bills eventually made their way through and were signed into law.
There was there was a modicum of business as usual. I have not seen everyone, you know clutching their pearls, you know, I'll turn on the TV and see on social [00:34:00] media It's upsetting to me as someone who before we did this podcast. I was literally on Capitol Hill. Talking to Republicans and Democrats and there were knives drawn, you know, everyone wasn't screaming at each other and everything like that.
So I think there's a bit of a hike there that said it is a larger political atmospheric phenomenon that we're having to deal with as also by the way. We're going to be careening into the 2020 election cycle where the president's up for re-election. The entire House of Representatives is up for re-election in the third of the Senate.
So it's still going to get depressingly ugly. But day-to-day, it's not the way it's being portrayed. Congress is populated by people people aren't perfect people make mistakes. So our institutions aren't always perfect. So, you know, they'll be things that you know, we do our next episode will be things that will be exasperated about in the meantime Casey and I will be [00:35:00] venting to each other but right now it's not doomsday scenario that everyone's saying so that's my two cents.
So it sounds like you're bullish on. Appropriations getting signed still for 2020 ultimately. Yeah. I was actually just hanging out with Senator Shelby's guy. And he was pretty sanguine about about the processes moving through. I've not heard anyone from leadership in the house or the Senate Republican and Democrats talking about holding the Appropriations bills hostage.
That's good. Yeah, how does this work? How will the House and Senate reconcile the Appropriations Bills or impeaching the president? Let's stick to Appropriations. Well, no, I mean, you know the. The sentence basically coughed up their thing how since Casey, you know are very articulately detailed, you know got there is out.
And so they go to this thing called conference committee where a number of Senate [00:36:00] appropriators and a number of house appropriators get together in a room, you know, many ways. A lot of times these bills kind of sync up with each other on a lot of the lot of things not just NASA, but other.
Accounts, they just got to say okay. We man you wanted to spend x amount of dollars on such-and-such. I wanted to spend a different amount. Let's split the difference. They kind of iron things out. And again, it's a rather businesslike and professional process believe it or not. There's not a lot of screaming and yelling and they kind of quietly go about their work and come out with What's called the conference report and.
Speaker of the House show bring the conference report for a floor vote and Senate Majority Leader will bring it up to the senate floor for a floor vote 99.9% of times. They'll pass out White House will of already quietly signal it whether the president will sign it into law both the times it will if there is a there is a real Poison pen.
That's when you'll see the [00:37:00] White House screaming and yelling that they're going to veto it. So but I haven't I haven't heard this what White House say they're going to veto any Appropriations bill yet this year. You've come to me somewhat Brendan. So thank you for that. It's good to hear. The things are still working and some of the back rooms and some of the front rooms up there on Capitol Hill.
Well, I can't remember who said it but the line is something like democracies in awful form a government, but it's the best one we have. Yeah. If you guys are ready we can go on to another topic which has come directly out of NASA this time and it should be good news. I think to anybody who wants Humanity to avoid the fate of the dinosaurs Casey.
Yes that I'd say we can this is unequivocably. Good news, which is NASA has announced through. Dr. Thomas or Buchan the the head the associate administrator of its entire science mission directorate. That it intends to [00:38:00] pursue the creation of a space-based infrared telescope solely dedicated to finding near-earth objects that could threaten the Earth.
This is something that we've needed for a long time something that the planetary Society has been supporting for years now and something that will fundamentally maybe revolutionize is too strong of a word but greatly accelerate. The search and characterization of these near Earth object. So it's basically a surveillance telescope to hunt these down.
So we have as much heads up just in case there's any of them heading our way. So this is a huge development. This is the first time that NASA has signaled its intent to be willing even. To build something like this. This is big news. I mean, I've lost track of how many times we've talked about the need for an infrared telescope in space dedicated to finding these extremely dark objects.
Most of them that you [00:39:00] really have to use infrared to find because that's where they glow in the infrared. Range of the electromagnetic spectrum and we've talked about it as recently in the last couple of weeks on the weekly version of planetary radio, but usually this has been in the context of talking about another mission proposal called Neo cam which seems to be pointedly not exactly what we're talking about here though with many similarities.
Yeah, this whole story. I just find this also fascinating. It's frustrating in some ways, but it's also just fascinating to see. How again how policy Works in this context, let's jump back even to 2005 which is where a lot of this kind of motivation is coming from. That's when Congress passed a NASA authorization bill that included a directive for NASA to find 90% of all near-earth objects a hundred and forty meters are larger.
Basically your city killer Regional destructive [00:40:00] asteroids and comets by. So that was an official directive in the law that NASA has had since 2005 NASA will not make that directive. They will not find it in the time given to them by Congress Congress neglected to provide funding for this and NASA didn't even request funding to achieve that for many many years.
And so we're stuck in the situation. We're in order to find a lot of these very quickly you do as you pointed out Matt really need a space-based telescope. Dedicated to finding these NASA has not had until very recently any sort of programmatic vehicle to promote or to provide funding for planetary defense missions.
The question is where does a mission like Neo cam? Fit into NASA's portfolio of human exploration Aeronautics technology development or science. We tried running that experiment NASA's small planetary [00:41:00] Mission program discovery, which gives opportunities every couple of years for you know, so-called small missions about half a billion dollars has an open competition for anyone who wants to propose a mission.
Neo cam asteroid hunting telescope went up I think to was it two or three times Matt, do you remember exactly I know about to for sure you could be right about three but two definite let's say two at least two times and ultimately it you know at the last time I made it very far along the selection process and ultimately it could never really compete on the science.
Goals against other science focused missions and it's not fair in a way to ask it to compete on those science goals because its primary goal isn't science its primary goal is to find things that could destroy all of humanity, right and and that didn't get any extra bonus points in that selection process because again these structures that we build for ourselves have consequences in terms of what [00:42:00] can then exist within them, right the the very Contours of how we design our structures.
Has long lasting implications and so planetary defense did not have a home at Nasa up until very very recently and it began to change over the last few years and particularly with the selection of this Dart mission that you've also talked about on planetary radio the double asteroid redirect test, right that's going to launch in 2022 and slam into a small asteroidal moon to test deflection technology.
You actually now have the establishment of a flight line within NASA dedicated to planetary defense. You've seen planetary defense bumped up in terms of budgetary hierarchy within NASA's budget request its own program line with in planetary science and what we saw from doctors who Buchan announcing this new mission is called Neo SM the Neo surveillance mission, right?
Notably not Neo can but functionally, Neo Cam and everything but name. [00:43:00] He announced it as these are not science missions anymore. These are planetary defense missions and these are direct admission strategic missions that NASA says is a priority for the agency. So they're not an open competition but NASA selects them because it's an important goal and sonio surveillance mission.
Is now apparently going to be on the books going forward for the space agency. I want to suggest that our listeners go to planetary a.org and read a piece Casey that you posted on September 26th how NASA's planetary defense budget grew by wait for it more than 4,000 percent in ten years course that happens when your funding missions are we now then looking at?
In effect a new division of NASA as you seem to be leading toward it is in a sense an expansion of NASA's its stated goals or responsibilities. Maybe is a better word [00:44:00] for that. It's still within a technically. It's still within the planetary science division, which is part of the science mission directorate, right?
So it's it's still located within. Science in terms of how they consider a budgetarily but it's been promoted at it used to be just what was called Neo observations program that was located within the planetary science research and Analysis Division and it was very buried down in there. So this has been bumped up at it's basically sits at the same kind of rubs budgetary shoulders with the Mars exploration program or the New Frontiers program or the Discovery program.
So, it's much more. Independent in that sense. It has its own set of directives. It's a key takeaway here is that there's been a fundamental shift internally within NASA that they're willing now to prioritize these types of missions in addition to other science missions in addition to human space flight and so forth.
This has never happened before this [00:45:00] article where I kind of explored this budgetary history of planetary defense funding as you implied 4,000 percent goes up. You can do that when you start with very little funding to begin with and for years. New observations which was all of what NASA was doing for planetary defense kind of limped along at four million dollars a year.
That's that's less than NASA's travel budget for employees at its headquarters. That's how small it was. What they basically funded was ground-based telescopes. They rented time on ground-based telescopes just to search for Sky surveys for near Earth objects that began to change and I point out I kind of make this argument.
In this post of that, you know the ideas for why you look for NEOS hasn't changed in 20 years. So why did we get such an increase and part of it? I believe is that for a while in the during the Obama Administration the needs of very important high priority aspects within NASA that the human space flight program.
Aligned [00:46:00] with opportunities provided by the Neo observation program and sometimes those alignments between your goals and a larger built-in institutionally high priority goal can really be leveraged to justify increases in funding for programs that otherwise have languished beforehand and I believe they did this with planetary defense and you saw when NASA started to propose sending humans to an asteroid.
Or the arm mission for some of our listeners to capture a small asteroid or Boulder and bring it to the moon you needed to find those asteroids. You could send humans to and the same years that they announced those programs NASA made very significant Quinn to polling or doubling of planetary defense observation searches.
And so that type of alignment is a good reminder in terms of when we're talking about how to. Increased funding or to drive resources to these important programs that sometimes [00:47:00] finding a partner a strange bedfellow perhaps right and political speak can really pay dividends. And so you've seen this develop and grow over the last 10 years.
Now, there's a big role for National academies reports establishing consensus and that these are important and the most. Development here in terms of why we're getting a Neo surveillance Mission now is not just because of the work that we've been doing here at the society and there's been a big scientific push.
But because the national academies released a report basically saying we absolutely need a space-based infrared telescope to find these asteroids because without it were never going to or decades. We're going to be decades and decades late. In trying to reach that Congressional mandate and as we have heard these things can sneak up on you this became a story in the regular mass media not just for a Space Geeks when we missed a rock up there in space and there were some internal documents that were shared but really [00:48:00] this was not a surprising thing considering the lack of the tools that we need to discover these.
Objects that are still big enough as you said to kill a city. Yeah, I mean exactly but that's again the fascinating thing to me is when I was looking at again this history of when we saw these really stepwise budget increases for planetary defense related projects. We all remember Chelyabinsk in 2013.
That actually had no correlation between when we saw the budget increases for Neo observations, so even though the you know these high-impact so to speak visible events still didn't really drive the outcome the way that more prosaic needs in terms of human space flight or other related kind of consensus building activities.
It has not compared in terms of direct success correlation to success in terms of funding increases. So it's a good reminder. You know, we see these those media events right where we say. Oh that was a close [00:49:00] one. And then the response historically has been like well on to other things and so seeing this development from NASA again reminds us that these concerted efforts in terms of establishing credibility aligning priorities basic, you know politics 101.
Is still a very effective way to ultimately build up these brand-new programs and to really get these exciting things. We should also clarify here what this means in terms of what NASA is going to do is not that right. Now that anything changes in the NASA program. This is a signal of an intent for NASA to ask for money.
To start building this in the next decade. So there's lots of work yet left to do to make sure that we get this Neo surveillance Mission. We still don't know the exact Contours of folks like Amy minds are who is such a integral part 2 Neo cam how she and her science team is going to be integrated.
Into what is now technically not a [00:50:00] science Mission, but obviously there seems like there should be a role for them. Then also Congress still has to fund it the White House has to approve the request. They have to find ways to pay for this Mission. It's a 600 million dollar Mission over the next few years.
So that adds another layer of budgetary pressure within planetary science. You know, where does that funding come from who is going to give up their priority to allow planetary defense missions to go forward Lots yet to figure out but again, the initial idea that NASA now has endorsed the validity of this idea that they intend to fight for this as a role that they should take on that is huge and that will really help.
This Mission be realized I think in the next decade for sure Brendan. I don't know anybody with a better sense of the sense of Congress. How is planetary defense regarded by the members like at [00:51:00] anything else? Members of Congress are deluged with information data news, etc. Etc. Constantly your average Congressional staffer literally, even though in this day of emails and texting and things like that still literally get about 2 feet of.
Paper documents mail reports dropped on their desk every day. So a lot of times its concerns are driven by whatever is the current affair, you know, every time there's a wildfire or hurricane or something else happens. You'll get everyone kind of focused on that thing for a while and then you know, whatever the next issue or crisis that pops up every one kind of sin starts following that and so.
When you do have something in the regular media talk about what is essentially is a near-miss people do pay attention to it. You may even get a here a congressional hearing about it. [00:52:00] But there hasn't been the sustained interest in planetary defense the way say on you know, Mars exploration. These near-miss events are certainly something that catches people's attention the fact that NASA seems to be reorienting itself to make it something that's.
Priority in their vast portfolio and something they will be going to talk about and advocating for is good. It's helpful as Casey said still a lot of work to be done. We talked about earlier in the broadcast about how the president's budget will be released in late January right before they have action.
Right now NASA has submitted their FY 21 budget submission to the White House, which is actually relatively early in comparison in the cycle. So the White House's Office of Management and budget OMB. They are literally as we speak already crunching NASA's numbers for the president's budget request.
[00:53:00] And so I hope. That when the budget request does come out we will see planetary defense priorities that will be very telling and if it is great, it's going to be something that our folks for the. Day of action can point to and say it's in the budget submission Congress. Please do your part or if it isn't it something that we can complain about until members of Congress.
It should have been in the budget request and it's your duty to include it and one other thing. I was recently with the French space at teshe. In this this fall will be What's called the European Space Agency ministerial which they have every few years and he actually said planetary defense is going to be on the agenda for the ISA ministerial.
So not only are we starting to kind of wake up and taken seriously here the United States our friends and allies across the Atlantic are doing likewise. That's encouraging gentlemen, I think maybe that'll do [00:54:00] it for this time around except maybe to once again make our pitch for our listeners who are not already members to go to planetary dot org slash membership and consider supporting the kind of great work and the great people that you've been listening to I'm talking about Casey and Brendan.
Who are representing our interests as fans of space exploration in Washington doing such a great job of it Casey reminder about the day of action, February 9th and 10th 2020. You can register or just learn more about it. If you're curious at planetary dot org slash day of action. Guys, it has been a great pleasure Brendan very good to have you back with us on the monthly space policy Edition very glad that you are continuing to do your work on our behalf.
They're in Washington as our chief of Washington operations. Thanks for doing this. Happy to do. So anytime and I'm proud to do the work for the society here in Washington [00:55:00] Casey dryer our chief advocate for the planetary Society Casey. I'll be talking to you again next month, of course, and probably I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there aren't some developments that get you on the weekly planetary radio show between now and then for a brief update and I assume that we can also watch for your work at planetary dot-org.
I hope so if I can get a through the editorial process. I'll get some posts up there coming up soon. The I guess also will be celebrating the Apollo 12 50th Anniversary. Yeah in November. I'm sure it will be just as widespread and aware as the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary earlier this year. Believe how that's how that works.
Well one can hope again. Thank you guys and thank you all of you for listening to the space policy addition. We will be back. We certainly expect on the first Friday in November perhaps with much more to talk about as we hit some deadlines and the budget [00:56:00] negotiations continue in Washington as we had further.
Into FY 20 Federal year, FY 2012, you will join us then and I hope you'll join me every week for planetary radio the weekly Edition that comes out every Wednesday morning until then everybody Ad Astra.
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