It's officially budget season! NASA's fiscal year 2021 budget request is out, and it proposes billions of dollars of new funding for Project Artemis. But not every program is so lucky: the WFIRST space telescope, two Earth Science missions, a Mars mission, and NASA's STEM engagement program are slated for cancellation. Why is Artemis growing and science shrinking? Will Congress let those cuts happen? The Society's Chief of D.C. Operations, Brendan Curry, joins Casey Dreier and Mat Kaplan to break down the details and political headwinds facing NASA funding in the coming year.
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Mat Kaplan: [00:00:00] Welcome to the March 2020 Space Policy Edition of Planetary Radio. We are thrilled to be back with you again. I'm Mat Kaplan, the host of Planetary Radio, joined as always by our chief advocate, Casey Dreier, and also this time by Brendan Curry. Casey, Brendan, welcome to the show.
Casey Dreier: Hey, Mat.
Brendan Curry: Great to be back, fellows.
Mat Kaplan: Very good to have you. We have lots to talk about. A lot of it will revolve around the, uh, budget that is, uh, coming together not for 2020 but for 2021. Uh, I know that you guys have a lot to say about that, and we'll have some other news along the way, no doubt.
I also want to congratulate both of you on a tremendously successful day of action. And [00:01:00] Brendan, I neglected to say that you are our chief of Washington operations. And there you are based right in the, uh, Beltway in Washington DC. And so, this is, uh, near and dear to you.
Brendan Curry: Yeah. It was, uh, it was a great day of action. Ca- Casey did a, a Herculean task of, uh, putting, uh, all of it together, and we had a great turnout. We had more people than we had last year coming from all over the country. Uh, and, uh, we just had a, a great day. We, uh, started it off with briefings at NASA headquarters. And then, uh, our intrepid members, uh, walked the hill and met with their elected representatives and their staffers and spoke about what, uh, what the society cares about and our support for, uh, space exploration.
Mat Kaplan: Casey, you had a good time.
Casey Dreier: I did. Uh, I mean it's always fundamentally for me I take a very selfish perspective. And I come out of that event and so invigorated and energized after meeting just our incredible members of the Planetary Society who selflessly [00:02:00] dropped hundreds if not thousands of dollars to fly out, come out to Washington DC. You know, they're paying for their own places to stay. They're taking time off of work. And they're doing it not because they get any personal benefit from the policies we're promoting, right?
There, there's very few if any space scientists or engineers or aerospace professionals, it's primarily just regular people who are there because they love space, just seeing that kind of commitment. I walk out of that just ready to go, work really hard every single day here at the Planetary Society to honor those people who came and demonstrated what a real committed space advocate looks like.
So, it's just always really fun for me to see them, to, to meet everybody, to hear about their experiences, learn about their lives and then see them just nail it when they go out. And they met with, I think, about 160 m-, uh, congressional offices in one single day. And as Brendan mentioned, we had a record level of participation nearly 115 people. And we even had a surprise bonus [00:03:00] participant, uh, Bill Nye, our CEO, and Robert Picardo, our board member and notable holographic doctor from Star Trek Voyager [laughs] who also joined us on the hill.
So, it was just a great day, uh, really proud of what we did and just again really could not be more impressed with our members here at the Planetary Society.
Mat Kaplan: And Casey, as you know, I hear from some of those attendees, they are listeners to Planetary Radio probably listening to us right now. I bet we have a bunch of your, uh, participants in the [crosstalk 00:03:29].
Casey Dreier: Hey, guys.
Mat Kaplan: [laughs] And, uh, they come back with the same kind of excitement and motivation that, that you've just talked about. Um, what about the reception that you got? I know it's always been good in the past.
Casey Dreier: Over all, very positive. Again, people like space, right? It work... I always [laughs] kind of see this as politics not the happiest place to be particularly right now, right, a lot of divisive stuff going on. But when a member of the Planetary Society walks in and says, "Hey, I wanna talk about the search for life in the universe." It can just be this relief [00:04:00] of like, "Wow, the staffer or the member of Congress, this is just really cool. This is really exciting. There's no divisive partisan politics here." It's just this question of should we as a species and as a nation invest in truly inspiring, optimistic, forward-looking research and scientific exploration?
And so, I th- I would see we're doing them a favor [laughs] coming in and sharing our excitement and reminding them that not everything is battle to the political death about one side or the other that there are these shared goals, these shared motivations that we still have and space, again, as our boss says brings out the best in us.
Mat Kaplan: Brendan, you've been a denizen of, uh, the Beltway for a long, long time. How does the day of action compare to other, you know, similar advocacy efforts?
Brendan Curry: It- it's not unusual for organizations to bring in their members, uh, from across the country to do, uh, a day of action or often they'll [00:05:00] call it a "fly-in" on the day after our day of [laughs] action that Tuesday. I still had one more meeting with, uh, Bill and Bob to meet with the, the chairwoman of the space subcommittee, Kendra Horn. And on that day, there were folks, uh, walking the hill in support of Special Olympics.
And so, what we do is unique to space, but it's not something unique that other organizations don't do. But like as Casey said, and I may have said this on this podcast before, I, I feel that, uh, cable news and social media, uh, leave the, the normal American with the impression that everyone in Washington has, uh, knives to each other's throats all the time about every issue under the sun. And are there bones of contention? Yes, but one of the great things about working in space is that it's one of those issues that still remain pretty bipartisan.
And, uh, when you have everyday Americans who, as Casey said, came out on their own nickel [00:06:00] to, uh, talk to their elected representatives about supporting something as grandiose as space exploration, it's refreshing from the staffer perspective. It's refreshing for the member. It's something everyone can kind of rally around. And it's just, uh, a wonderful thing. And it's, it's one thing to be a staffer and you're on the receiving end of a visit from someone who's a professional lobbyist.
And it's a whole other ballgame when you're having a constituent come into town and just speaking from the heart. It resonates, and it stays with you. And one of the things Casey and I, uh, encourage our folks to do is they'll, they'll be able to take the card from the staffer they're meeting with. You know, it's okay to keep in touch and zap them a note when they hear something or wanna ask them a question. It's, it's good to maintain that level of a relationship. So, it's an opportunity for everyone to get together who cares about space to voice their support. Most members of [00:07:00] Congress wanna support America's efforts in space.
Mat Kaplan: So, it's a day of action, but I suppose, really, it ought to be a year of action. It certainly is for, uh, for the two of you. Casey, you also talked about how our members, uh, participated in this day of action. You don't have to be a member of the Planetary Society to be an advocate for space, but it helps. So, uh, let's give our pitch. Everybody listening to this, if you're already a member, thank you very much. You, you enabled the day of action.
Maybe, you were a direct participant in it, but if you are a dues-paying member, you are standing behind efforts like the day of action and everything else that Casey and Brendan spend their days up to all year long every year. You can become a member if you are not at planetary.org/membership which is also where you can learn about all the benefits of being a member other than the pride of ownership.
There are quite a few, and we have many different levels [00:08:00] that you can, uh, come in at. Guys, I don't know if you have anything to add to that, but, uh, we sure hope that we drive a lot of people toward looking at that page, planetary.org/membership.
Casey Dreier: Just to emphasize something you said, your membership is what we walk into, Brendan and I, into a congressional office. And they ask us, "What's going on with the Planetary Society if they're learning about us?" We can say that we're an independent organization. Their ears perk up when they hear that. In the space business, there's just not that many truly independent organizations that don't depend on large amounts of corporate funding or government funding to keep the doors open.
The Planetary Society, because of that independence, because of the fact that most people that enable us to exist, are just regular citizens or people around the world, that gives us this additional credibility. So, when we come in with a policy request, we're not doing it because we personally benefit from it or organizationally benefit. And we're able to pursue this advanced [00:09:00] and year-round effort of space advocacy and space policy development because we have salaries, [laughs] because we have jobs, [laughs], uh, because we can devote our full time on your behalf as a member of the Planetary Society.
Every membership makes a real difference. And it's only through our independence at the Planetary Society that we're able to fill this critical role in the whole space ecosystem of being this independent voice. So, I just really want a hammer-on that. You're really contributing to a unique participatory system here in the United States and more broadly around the world with your membership dollars.
Mat Kaplan: Well said, Casey. Thank you. Let's go to our main topic of the day which is, uh, the budget. [crosstalk 00:09:46] Capitol Hill. [laughs] And, uh, let's, let's also start with this wonderful background that you provide in your, your blog post of February 28th, that everybody can find at [00:10:00] planetary.org. It's titled Two Mars Missions Are Gutted Despite Near-Record Funding for Planetary Science, Strong funding for NASA's Planetary Science Division Isn't Enough to Support MSL Curiosity and Mars Odyssey Apparently.
Uh, that apparently, that's, uh, also in the subtitle that was not an editorial edition the- from me. I mean you've talked about how it's a good-looking budget, but, but how disappointing to see that these two spacecraft that are still delivering terrific science apparently there are some who just don't think they're worth the effort?
Casey Dreier: Yeah. It's one of those very frustrating aspects of any budget release that even if there's a lot of good in a budget, and I would say there's a lot of really exciting and good things in this budget request overall compared to previous years, but, of course, they just can't leave well enough alone and let these two productive science missions at Mars just continue being [00:11:00] successful. We saw, for reasons, that are opaque, but we can guess that the operating funds for the Curiosity mission would be cut by 20% if this budget went through.
And then the operating funds for Mars Odyssey which has been there since 2001, it's cut by 92% going down to zero in the following year. It's functionally cancelling that mission. Total, those two operating missions to restore them to full operations to a level that would provide excellent science as provided by or as analyzed by an independent review panel, it'd be an additional 24 million. And this is 24 million I wanna emphasize out of a budget of proposal of 25.2 billion, so a fraction of a percent. Things like that we- we'll talk about the number of frustrating aspects of this budget.
Mat Kaplan: Well, that's a good tease because we will get into, uh, a lot more details, but let's clarify first of all that we are talking here about the PDR which, of course, has come up many times [00:12:00] in the past on, uh, Space Policy Edition. Uh, and that is the President's budget request, but wh- wh- what does it really mean, guys?
Brendan Curry: Every year in the late January, early February timeframe, whoever the president is, sends up a budget request. It basically signals to the Congress what the, uh, priorities are for whoever the president is for that upcoming fiscal year. One of the funny... get back to the day of action, uh, we were, uh, lucky enough to, uh, have the budget request come out a week later than what was expected. So, it came out on the day of action which made things very [laughs] interesting.
Mat Kaplan: Nice coincidence.
Brendan Curry: Yes. Yes. So, it gets sent up to Congress and... but its, it's not the, the end all and be all. And it's Congress's job to look at it and analyze it and say, "This is what we like, and this is what we don't like." And, you know, we're still in the first inning of a nin- a nine-inning ball game right now, and the president's budget request is basically the [00:13:00] umpire saying, "Play ball." There's lots to, to sort out between now and the end of the fiscal year are probably drifting into the next fiscal year especially because it's an election year, but we can talk about that later.
But, uh, it's a good starting point, and it gives us not only the Planetary Society, but everyone else who cares about stuff, let's say, for the Department of Agriculture or various parts of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Interior, et cetera, et cetera, all these different federal agencies. It gives everyone an opportunity to kind of weigh in with Congress and say, "Yay. We a- agree with this part of the budget, or we don't agree with that part of the budget."
And, and so, there's a whole other series of offense that need to take place as we go through this nine-inning ballgame.
Casey Dreier: T- extend maybe the metaphor. like the umpire calling play ball, but also defining the rules of the game at that moment. The president's budget request as, as Brendan said, it's a statement of policy. And it's a statement of the executive branch saying how they would like to spend money on [00:14:00] their priorities for the coming year. And people will say and, and have over the years, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Our Congress will..." Dead on arrival. And they'll tear it up and do their own thing, but that's really not true for the vast majority of the budget. The budget request for NASA is a 700-page document. The final congressional appropriation for NASA will be at most two or three pages. And so, anything not specifically touched on in congressional legislation or related committee reporting by the Congress functionally is endorsed and goes through as proposed.
At the micro level or to a smaller level, for example, Mars operating missions that tend not to take a lot of public attention, the president's budget request can be very, very influential particularly if we're in a situation where Congress is going to be delayed in providing the final budget. These interim periods, the White House's budgeting arm, the Office of Management and [00:15:00] Budget, will control and limit spending to match lowest proposed amounts in order to preserve flexibility for that program item going forward.
So, it's a statement of policy which should make us pay attention because that's just as- what NASA will officially be trying to do unless Congress changes their mind or forces them to do something else and in an ambiguous situation or unless Congress has taken action, the White House through its budgeting arm will impose z regardless.
And so, this is very important to pay attention to. And then, I would say even writ large and I'm working on some of these numbers to talk about more in the future, but the correlation between the president's budget request and the final congressional appropriation at a macro level is pretty strong. It has an R-value of 0.98 which is a strong correlative-
Brendan Curry: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: ... statistical effect. Historically, if the president proposes an increase or, or increase or decrease, 83% of the time, [00:16:00] Congress will match that positive or negative change from NASA's budget. So, there's a strong amount of context setting, cognitive anchoring, that happens from this budget request. Congress is then in a reactive mode. It's really sets the stage of our entire coming year debating about the budget, what's in this budget request right now.
Mat Kaplan: So, the PBR is not to be taken lightly, uh, which i- i- is the impression that some people might get because, yeah, then does go to Congress, but, uh, what is the outlook in Congress? And it is complicated by the fact that the house, well, we know it controls the purse strings, but it's also controlled by Democrats whereas the Senate is, is not.
Brendan Curry: Right now, literally starting, starting right now, you're starting to see what are called budget posture hearings where you're seeing various heads of various federal departments and agencies coming up to a variety of congressional committees that have jurisdiction over their [00:17:00] respective department or agency fielding questions about what's in their particular budget requests, uh, what's their justification for it.
Right now, I'm hearing that, uh, Administrator Bridenstine may be going up for his round of hearings in the House and the Senate, uh, later this month. And then, we'll also eventually have the House Budget Committee. They're supposed to issue something called 302[b] allocations which kind of susses out how much money all the appropriation's subcommittees can spend on their particular bill.
And so, that I'll be going through, through the spring. The Senate usually lets the house kind of go first and, uh, lets the house kind of work some things out. It also gives the Senate the, uh, luxury of seeing where the house marks what are essentially called the marks. Uh, it's a term of art here in Washington. It lets them see where the house is thinking especially, Mat, as you said, since the Democrats [00:18:00] control the house and the Republicans control the Senate, the Senate Republicans will then be able to take a gander where the house is thinking and thinking about how when it's- when they get around to marking up their appropriations bills where they wanna push and prod, and, you know, see where they can get some, uh, some leverage, uh, when it comes down to final negotiations which takes place late or much later in the, the year and much further down in the process.
Casey Dreier: And the other year, the Senate in the house reached a two-year budget agreement and big picture budget that set the size of the pie that they are going to divide up to fund what's called a discretionary side, uh, side of US government. That means that we don't have to battle from a philosophical perspective this year between the Democratic-led house and the Republican-led Senate how much the United States should spend. That's been agreed upon already.
And so, what Brendan was talking about here these 302[b] allocation, [00:19:00] that's divvying up slices of that budgetary pie whose size has already been set. The bigger the slice that this Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee, the subcommittee that includes NASA funding, the bigger the slice they get, the easier it is to accommodate growth in NASA.
The problem is, of course, that other things will have different priorities within that the Commerce Department, Justice Department, things like the FBI are gonna be jockeying for that not to mention, of course, the census which is happening this year.
So, the overall context is, is, is locked in. And there's actually kind of a, a difficult part of that which is there's very little growth of that budgetary pie from last year to this year. I think about total it's growing by $4 billion in the context of a $1.2-ish trillion s-, uh, slice. And so, we don't have a lot of additional room to grow NASA without having to take it out of something else which is going to be a political problem regardless of the overall positive [00:20:00] proposal for NASA just because, again, the pie has not grown to accommodate NASA.
Mat Kaplan: There's another issue here. And it's, uh, just the times we find ourselves in a rather contentious, um, election year certainly and it's shaping up to be that. That I'm gonna guess will also, uh, affect, uh, how this budget comes together not just for NASA, but, uh, across the federal government.
Casey Dreier: [laughs] Yeah. There's a little thing it's, it's happening, I guess, the presidential election. I'll let Brendan talk at, at length. He's been through a number of these. What happens as you approach an election is that fewer and fewer members of Congress are going to want to take a position on whatever just because it can be theoretically used against them by opponents running against them, and, you know, for re-election or for election. [laughs] And so-
Mat Kaplan: Canon will be used against you. Yes, right?
Casey Dreier: Yes. [laughs] And so, legislating... The piece of legislation tends to drop precipitously in advance of an election. [00:21:00] So, don't forget. All of the House of Representatives is up for re-election, and a third of the Senate is up for reelection. And so, it's very likely instead of passing a budget for the year before the election, you will see Congress pass an extension to the current budget a continuing resolution. They'll carry them through November 3rd and so, that they'll be able to deal with it in the lame-duck session of Congress, uh, after this.
Brendan Curry: As the momentum for trying to get something done, uh, fades almost by the week. Um, e- and I'm not trying to be flippant when I say that. You know, the, the estimation is right around the, uh, 4th of July recess is when things for all intents and purposes in terms of trying to get anything major, uh, accomplished through the Congress and signed into law will the chances of anything like that happening are virtually nil.
Just to give you some perspective, the house was in session last year for about a 135 maybe at most 140 days. [00:22:00] This year, the house is set to be in session a 112 days.
Mat Kaplan: Ah.
Brendan Curry: Both the, uh, big political conventions happen this summer. Normally, both political conventions take place in August, but this year, the Democrats are doing theirs July, uh, 13 through 16. And the Republicans will be in August, August 24th through 27th, uh, but it is a little unusual for the Democrats to have theirs re- relatively early, uh, essentially midsummer. And so, all that's gonna compound the whole process of trying to get stuff done.
And, you know, Casey talked about, you know, the reluctance of members to really take strong stands as, as, uh, election day looms overhead. But I mean even some of the more mundane stuff that most people outside of Washington don't see, you see, uh, uh, congressional offices put a hiring freeze because they don't wanna hire anyone right now out of fear that, that somehow a, a new hire could be used by [00:23:00] a political opponent against them in some weird way. I've, I've seen it happened before.
So, it kind of starts mounting. And it's just, uh, it's a nature of the system. And it's a, a nature of the beast. And then after everyone's just gonna be holding their breath and seeing how the, the elections shake out and then, you know, the day or so afterwards after the dust settles, but you'll see a flurry of activity depending on how, how things turned out, there's a whole other set of varieties that we could look at, at some point, but, uh, that's probably best safe for a future podcast in early November with you, guys. [laughs]
Mat Kaplan: And then there are the wild card issues. I mean I'm thinking specifically of COVID-19, the coronavirus, but-
Brendan Curry: Oh yeah.
Mat Kaplan: ... who knows what else [crosstalk 00:23:45].
Brendan Curry: Yeah. No. I mean it's, um, that's gonna be the first item up for appropriations activity. It's gonna be listed as emergency spending. So, it won't be counted against any of those 302[b] allocations, but that's they're gonna [00:24:00] try to get something done with that on the house side next week. It's just a matter of how big the, the package is and, but that's sadly turned into a bone of contention.
Yet, there will be things, you know, obviously, everyone on this podcast cares about space, but there's other things to take place in Washington that have nothing to do with space that, uh, sadly, uh, impact it.
Mat Kaplan: We always, uh, point out during these programs that, uh, you know, space may be important to all of us, but there are a few other issues, uh, facing the United States, uh, and Americans at large. Casey, are you ready? Uh, we've sort of teased people a little bit, but are you ready to start taking us through, uh, an overview of what this budget, uh, from president, from the executive branch, uh, actually, uh, en- entails? Uh, y- you've got sort of a top-line review. And then, you've already given us, uh, some bullets from the good, bad and the ugly. And some of them are pretty ugly.
Casey Dreier: [laughs] Yes. Now that we've teased all the, the headwinds that it'll be facing, let's talk about what the actual [00:25:00] budget request is. We- we've been, you know, maybe hiding the, uh, the big news here, but this is an incredible request in terms of just top-line growth for NASA. This is the largest single-year request in probably 30 years. It was proposed to bump NASA from 22.6 billion to 25.2 billion. So, nearly a $3 billion growth in a single year.
That is really important [laughs] if you're trying to land on the moon by 2024. And this is what I was looking for, and this is what a lot of people were looking for to see how serious the Trump administration is about their 2024 lunar landing goal.
Last year, right, this just happened. They announced the 2024 landing goal. They did a supplemental request of surprisingly small amount, uh, maybe about one and a half billion. That was good, but you really needed to see some significant increases to NASA to support this effort. [00:26:00] Lo and behold, here it is. They came through with a $3 billion increase. All of that increase, functionally all of this increase in NASA, is gonna go to deep space exploration specifically for crewed lunar lander development which ramps up from, uh, $600 million in 2020 to a proposed $3.3 billion in 2021 maintaining that 3.3 going up to four over the next few years.
So, spending, you know, off the top of my head, roughly $15 billion on that effort just in the next five years. So, that represents, I think, a significant commitment. And it really shows us that we need to take Artemis seriously because this administration is starting to spend billions of dollars for that. And I think that's really exciting. And, and again, just to put this in context, I said 30 years. If this budget goes through as requested fo- and again, we gave a number of reasons why, [laughs] why that may not happen, but if it does and it gets 25 or close to [00:27:00] 25, if you adjust for inflation for NASA's history, this would be NASA's best budget since 1994.
And, again, also maybe put some context at the early 90s had really solid basis for NASA, it just hasn't been that great for, for decades, but this is a serious commitment. And I think that's probably the most important leadoff and biggest question that was answered from this re- request that came out last month.
Mat Kaplan: By the way, any of you who, uh, as we talk about Artemis, are wondering when we're gonna bring up SLS, that big rocket? Don't worry. It's coming. Within this unprecedented budget, uh, well, at least, recently unprecedented, you mentioned that the science divisions, uh, suffer a bit.
Casey Dreier: They do. And this is classic situation in terms of in the hat- in the past. [laughs] Any big human spaceflight endeavor tends to come at the cost of scientific priority within NASA. So, there's a few issues. And I just wanna give proper context. Science does okay [00:28:00] broadly in this. And some science divisions do better than others.
And so, it's not a wholesale gutting of science the way that you saw in previous lunar return or Mars mission attempts. This is basically keeping science. It's cutting it a little bit compared to previous years and then keeping it relatively flat going forward into its five-year projection. But key missions are being cancelled, proposed to be cancelled again in this budget, notably for us for Planetary Society, WFIRST, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, the follow-on to James Webb Space Telescope, the [inaudible 00:28:35] administration proposes to cancel that for the third time in a row.
Congress has obviously rejected that proposal the last two years that it was proposed. They will probably do it again. It just passed. It's a key decision point C moving the mission into actual implementation bending metal to start building it. Yet at the same time, it's proposed to be canceled next year.
So, it's frustrating to see things [00:29:00] like that. They also propose to cancel two Earth Science Missions that they've also proposed multiple times to cancel. You know, why are they doing this? It's obviously going to be returned by Congress. Congress has demonstrated multiple times that it supports these missions. And the answer just might be because the administration knows that Congress will fund these missions.
And so, they will make their books balanced by promoting their priorities, right, the statement of priorities knowing that Congress will probably continue WFIRST, but again, it just means a lot of churn and uncertainty for that program in the meantime that we have to go through this again. People have to speak out, engage their members of Congress to make sure that Congress puts the mission funding back, right?
We can't just assume they will because Congress is ultimately responsive to its constituents. And we need to make sure WFIRST and other aspects of this budget that we share our opinions on this to make sure that they take the correct action.
Mat Kaplan: Almost like a trial balloon by the executive branch, but weren't we assured by some including [00:30:00] Administrator Bridenstine that science would not be hurt by, uh, this focus on getting humans back to the moon?
Casey Dreier: Yeah. Administrator Bridenstine has talked about that that you can't just go cutting other NASA programs to fund for a return to the moon. Broadly, this budget does that with these handful of exceptions. I, I'd say what's interesting about this is WFIRST is canceled in this budget specifically blaming the James Webb Space Telescope.
So, obviously, the James Webb Space Telescope is in a two-year, you know has slipped, you know, from its 2018 original launch date. It added $800 million to the mission. And that 800 million is roughly what the administration had originally planned to spend on WFIRST per year, uh, 400 million per year for the last couple of years.
They're framing it in this budget request as blaming the overruns and James Webb for the cost of WFIRST. And then, the cost of the earth science missions predate the Artemis project. And so, [laughs] you know, for whatever reasons and political [00:31:00] reasons, you wanna apply to that. Those have continued, you know, that's just like good old-fashioned, you know, let's go back to the well of proposing to cut these missions because that's what we've done now since 2018.
Mat Kaplan: [laughs] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: Even though we're seeing these cuts overall, I would say it's not because of Artemis because Artemis has come in with this new money primarily, right? It's generally as what Administrator Bridenstine said. We need additional funds to do this because you can't go back and create the political conflict by cutting all these other popular programs.
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: And, generally, they're... I think they're doing that.
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Brendan Curry: Yeah. Uh, back to the earlier discussion about, uh, cutting money on, uh, Curiosity and Odyssey, I, I can't remember how many years ago, but, uh, there was an effort to switch off, uh, the Voyager probes to save money, and, uh, everyone went berserk about it. And thankfully, those missions were not turned off.
So, what we're seeing with Curiosity and Odyssey, [00:32:00] uh, is not entirely something new if you think about something as iconic as the Voyager probes especially since our founder, uh, Carl Sagan had such a direct, uh, hand in both those missions. Uh, the case he's pointed it- that, that somewhat of a, a once a game being played, but it's... There, there are some machinations that go, go through with all this stuff that everyone kind of knows really where, where things lie. And I think Casey's, uh, estimation of things are pretty spot on.
Casey Dreier: Hmm. I took a deeper dive into the planetary science budget. Mat, uh, on the blog post you mentioned that we'll link to in the show notes here.
Mat Kaplan: I'm looking at your graph right now. And it, it is so instructive. And you've got so much great data here.
Casey Dreier: Thank you, Mat. Yeah. It's... I, I, I'm gonna tease. There's lots of more really exciting data about planetary science, but it's to come soon in the next month. We'll talk about it next month, but for now, for this '21 budget, I break down every division within planetary science and look at why it's going [00:33:00] down. Almost all of them do. Most of them go down mainly because of programmatic reasons. That's encouraging, right, that they're going down because they've hit peak funding last year on the current crop of missions that they're building. And there's this natural development cycle where you peak at the midpoint of your development. And then the cost of the missions go down as you kind of wrap them up and launch them.
So, overall, that's what's happening in planetary science, it does see a small 2% drop from the year before. And, and just to add more context to what Brendan was saying, over the last 10 years, we've seen repeated proposals to end operating missions at Mars most notably with the opportunity Rover saw zeroing out of its budget multiple years in a row. Uh, obviously, those didn't happen. Those were undone, you know, ultimately rejected by Congress or pushback from the scientific community.
What's again strange about this, and I think if I can put on my psychoanalysis hat of why this is happening, some important context here is that Mars 2020 the next big flagship Mars [00:34:00] mission, right, that's gonna launch in July, hope I have to see everyone down in Florida for that, it bursts its budget cap which was kind of just announced in the context of this.
So, that's an important thing to keep in mind here. Within the Mars program, an extra $300 million had to be spent on Mars 2020 to address a number of technical issues before it launched. If I had to unders- analyze why we're seeing pointless cuts in Mars science operations missions, it's because that's the, you know, "punishment' from the Office of Management and Budget to the Mars program saying, "You need to find savings throughout your own program to pay for your budget cap, but, uh, bursting your budget cap for Mars 2020."
That has been consistent over the years, you know. That's kind of a slap on the hand warning sign that you get from the budget tiers at the White House for going over your budget proposal. So, I'd, I'd say that's a related aspect of this though again, it's not fair to Mars [laughs] Curiosity or the MSL [00:35:00] Curiosity because they didn't control that 2020 program or Odyssey which has just been trucking along giving us great science for roughly $12 million a year at Mars since 2001.
Mat Kaplan: What a deal. Casey, Brendan and I will be right back with much more of this month's Space Policy Edition of Planetary Radio.
Debra Fischer: Hi. I'm Yale astronomer, Debra Fischer. I've spent the last 20 years of my professional life searching for other worlds. Now, I've taken on the 100 earths project. We want to discover 100 Earth-sized exoplanets circling nearby stars. It won't be easy. With your help, the Planetary Society, will fund a key component of an exquisitely precise spectrometer. You can learn more and join the search at planetary.org/100earths. Thanks.
Mat Kaplan: We'll leave the details to people who wanna read through this March 28th, uh, uh, entry, your blog post at planetary.org. It's worth repeating. I just wanna [00:36:00] note, I mean not surprisingly, big increase in the lunar exploration line, 51%.
Casey Dreier: Yup.
Mat Kaplan: But also interesting, this, uh, research line up by 15% when as you said virtually everything else is, uh, is reduced. Any idea why?
Casey Dreier: You know, I don't have insight into that. It's actually a very smart move I think funding... Research just to clarify within the planetary science division, the entire planetary science community in the United States, that's primarily faculty at universities and what we call soft money scientists, scientists who pay their own salaries by getting, competing for government grants to do research programs.
NASA is pretty much the sole source of funding for planetary science research in the United States. The National Science Foundation, you know, has its own priorities, but what NASA does to work with NASA data, they provide this source of funding to basically keep the community employed, and also, [00:37:00] it pays for a lot of students and graduate students to develop a scientist.
So, it's basically a pure investment into the scientific workforce of the United States. Compared to building spacecraft, scientists are cheap, you know. It's... We're talking tens of thousands of [laughs] dollars per year uh-
Mat Kaplan: [laughs] To say nothing to post grads and graduate students. [crosstalk 00:37:22]
Casey Dreier: Oh, graduate students. Yeah. They might as well be [crosstalk 00:37:23][laughs]. No. [laughs] And I say that, uh, as someone who met my wife right before she entered graduate school. And they are very much underpaid, but the issue being here. So, if you invest even slight increases in the fundamental research for planetary science, that is a direct investment into the future workforce of the United States for creating top-notch planetary scientists, students, and people who just trained to be critical thinkers who work with technology and work through very complicated problems.
So, this is just a smart move. And there's always been a push to try to at least, [00:38:00] you know, there's a big problem fundamentally. We could talk about this at length, but we probably won't today, but just the, the fundamental problem is as the size of this community grows, as people graduate, make graduate students and they become professionals themselves, there's more and more pressure for the same pot of money, right? There, there are more and more competition to get those grants.
And so, if you're not increasing the overall grant size, the pool size, there are gonna be fewer and fewer people able to make a living as professional scientists because they won't have the access to funds to stay employed, to pay their mortgages, to buy groceries and so forth and so on. So if nothing else increasing this to at least try to assuage some of the demand, a growing demand for these competitive grants and to give more people access to work with planetary data is a good idea.
Mat Kaplan: There's one other cut here is-, uh, moving out of planetary science, uh, which has become an annual event, uh, and that is cutting NASA's educational activities. Uh, do we see [00:39:00] that again? And do you expect Congress will once again say, "No, no, no. We like this?"
Casey Dreier: Yes and yes. Uh, the [laughs] the STEM engagement previously education division within NASA, uh, funded at about 120 million, I believe, last year, uh, has now proposed to be zero. This is continuing a long line of cuts from the Trump administration, but also under the Obama administration. They didn't propose to remove it completely, but they proposed significant cuts to the- this division.
Half of this education funding, STEM education funding, goes to something called space grant. Every state has a space grant office, and every American territory has a space grant office. And they are charged with giving small grants, thousands of dollars to students to rocket clubs, to teachers for educational development. It's incredibly popular among Congress. Every state has a space grant office. And you're supporting students who want to do space, right, at the student or teaching level.
It's credibly [00:40:00] popular. So, no question this is gonna come back. We heard multiple requests [laughs] already saying, "Why are they doing this?" I don't know. It's... Again, it's the so- same song and dance. Brendan maybe will have some additional insight into why they go after this year by year, but this is the not unexpected in the sense, but always very annoying that we have to deal.
Brendan Curry: Yeah. That fo- for for a number of years, even preceding the, the Obama administration as well, there's been a, a perennial, uh, frustration with how that office has, has been managed. Uh, there's been attempts even at the Congressional level fits and starts about severely cutting it or reducing it or zero winging it out. You know, like Casey said, at, at, at the end, it's very popular because of the space grant stuff, but there's always been this, this frustration level with how the- that office is, is managed and fu- how it functions.
And it's just to kind of make a point to, uh, you know, straighten up and fly right thing more than any- anything [00:41:00] else. If I, if I could circle back to the Artemis stuff, one of the things, uh, that we've learned last week was that, uh, at some point, this month there's gonna be discu... some sort of proclamation or announcement about some sort of reconfiguration or realignment of Artemis with respect to, to the moon.
There's a, a new person in charge of, uh, human spaceflight at, at NASA headquarters, a gentleman by the name of Doug Loverro. He's planning on making some announcements about how gateway may be utilized in a different fashion or a different manner. So, stay tuned to that. Uh, I think whatever he says will frustrate Congress.
This is a big part of the, the NASA mission. And like we said, the, the budget already came out and now they're gonna come out essentially over a month later saying, "Well, the big, the big cherry on the sundae in this budget. Well, what we told you in our budget release may not be [00:42:00] what we're really thinking now." So, stay tuned. There may be some, uh, frustration, uh, expressed by Congress about that, um, there's gonna a space council meeting at the end of the month, uh, at Glenn Research Center in Ohio, and I wouldn't be surprised if they use that as a venue to, uh, uh, start showcasing, uh, the modifications on Artemis.
Mat Kaplan: Well, there's some déjà vu. Didn't we go through this last year when, when Artemis first, uh, became public?
Brendan Curry: Yeah. And it-, uh, Casey and I were talking. I, I got deja vu when I heard about this as well because last year, we had the budget requests. And then, we were told there was gonna be a supplemental budget request. And it was taking longer and longer and longer for the supplemental budget request to come and Congress just got extremely frustrated. So, there's a part of me that's girding myself for another rehash of, uh, something, uh, akin to what happened last year.
Casey Dreier: I think this is a fundamental example of what happens when you [00:43:00] have a very tight deadline. And it's very difficult position NASA finds itself in where it's being told to land on the moon in less than five years. And they have to suddenly figure out how to do that. Generally, NASA particularly with its human spaceflight program is not known for moving super fast. It's, it's slow and deliberate for a reason, right, which is focused on safety and sustainability and a variety of other factors to try to move really fast and then to have these other cycles like the budget cycle processes running independent that they have to fit into.
They just can't figure out or, or been able to lock down on one configuration which then, of course, as Brendan said creates this frustration in Congress, creates a hesitancy on why should we fund you if you don't even know what you're doing yet.
NASA's put in a very difficult position with this 2024 deadline for the first lunar landing given what it has to work with politically.
Mat Kaplan: And yet, NASA says they still think that they can [00:44:00] achieve putting those humans back up there on our satellite in 2024. Uh, is this now edginess into the, uh, the ugly column, Casey?
Casey Dreier: [laughs] That's a good segue. Well, I think even though we're seeing some serious money being proposed for this effort, 2024, in my opinion, remains highly unlikely. Again, I think we are reminded of this. We can bring this up. The, the Space Launch System rocket just announced from one of the high, uh, administrators at NASA, uh, Jurczyk, that it would be now delayed until the second half of 2021, its first launch. And this is the first launch without crew, right. So, an uncrewed launch.
That means they have to have a second launch with crew go perfectly in 2023 and then have everything ready, a lunar lander perhaps at the gateway who knows everything in place ready to go by 2024. And everything has to work perfectly for that [00:45:00] landing, the third launch of the Space Launch System, the second launch with crew.
The pace at which that has to happen, again, I- just historical context here, the last time NASA or any organization, any organization made a crew capable spacecraft in less than five years was during Apollo in the 1960s. No one else has done that. And that includes SpaceX. That includes Blue Origin, anyone. So, this is the situa- It's just very unlikely historically from the context they have and even the money that they're getting may not be enough to try to move something so quickly when it's the program itself seems to be quite in flux.
Mat Kaplan: Even the, uh, the development of, uh, of SLS, um, uh, what's gonna happen on top of that first stage that is wrapped up in this as well? I mean you've, uh, mentioned in your notes that they're gonna, uh, be sticking with the 1A version for even longer than expected?
Casey Dreier: Well, that's the debate. And so, [00:46:00] for this context, right, the, the block 1A version of SLS has this interim upper stage. It's, it's slightly underpowered relatively speaking to what the full capability the SLS could be. So, you have the first core. You have its solid rocket boosters. And you have your second stage, um, ICPS. That is enough, NASA claims, to launch Orion and its service module and whatever else to the moon.
And you don't need what Congress has been funding an upgraded and enhanced upper stage, the EUS, which would be the block 1B variant of the SLS. That enhanced upper stage is very powerful. You can do a lot of cool things with it, but NASA says it doesn't need it and would rather take funding and put it towards crew lunar development and focus the SLS program on just getting off the ground. Basically, [laughs] it just-
Mat Kaplan: Hmm.
Casey Dreier: ... launched, right, with what you have. Congress is very enamored. And, and key people in Congress are very enamored with this exploration upper [00:47:00] stage. They wrote into the budget last year that it shall continue, and they should spend at least $300 million on that- this year.
NASA once again proposes to defer that indefinitely into the future. I see very likely that Congress will write that back in to their legislation again this year.
Brendan Curry: Concur.
Mat Kaplan: Wow. We used to talk about how great it would be. So, cool to put the Europa Clipper Mission on top of an SLS because you could get out there a lot quicker. You wouldn’t maybe have to do planetary flybys to pick up more velocity to get to Jupiter. Is that wrapped up in this?
Casey Dreier: Oh, Mat, it, it is. This is the [crosstalk 00:47:42][laughs] [inaudible 00:47:42] like bargain of the Europa Clipper is becoming very relevant now, but Europa Clipper when it was being proposed, when we're going back, when NASA was trying to reject the mission and it was trying to build this coalition, it was proposed that, "Hey, we can stick this on an SLS." And it can get it [00:48:00] out to Jupiter in my two-and-a-half years direct to Jupiter. It's incredible, really fast, great.
If they need, uh, context for the SLS, they need to use it for things at the time, right. In the mid 2000s, they didn't have this Artemis program yet. They didn't have enough missions for SLS. So, yeah, put Europa Clipper on it, get it out there, everybody wins, right? We get a usage for the SLS. So, the SLS coalition really liked the Europa Clipper. Scientists at the Clipper and other supporters said, "Hey, we can save all this time getting out to Jupiter." Sure.
What has changed at this point. So, NASA in its budget request now as it's finally embraced Europa Clipper, NASA is proposing to not use the SLS for two reasons, the cost of the procurement which the budget claims would be $1-1/2 billion for an SLS rocket, also the fact that they want the SLS rockets for their human program at Artemis.
Right now, Boeing has a production limitation. They cannot [00:49:00] produce roughly more than one rocket per year. So, if you use a rocket and SLS rocket for Europa Clipper, that's one year you can't send humans to the moon. NASA internally wants to prioritize SLS rockets for Artemis and then use a commercial launch vehicle for Europa Clipper even if it takes a little longer.
Congress on the other hand has been for the last few years writing into law that Europa Clipper shall use an SLS to go to Jupiter without really acknowledging this production limitation issue. The other factor that this is why this is coming to a head is that Europa Clipper is almost done. It's projected to be, uh, completed, the spacecraft to be completed in 2023, but the problem is the current production rate of a SLS rocket or not the rate but the lead time to produce one is about five years. So, if you-
Mat Kaplan: Wow.
Casey Dreier: ... wanted to have an SLS to launch clipper as Congress has demanded in 2023, [00:50:00] you would have had to start building that rocket two years ago, right? [laughs] What has not happened, you know, they still haven't flown a rocket yet. So, this is the coming to a head. So, already now, this budget proposes to delay clipper by one year to get another commercial rocket for that mission.
Other commercial rockets, they need their own amount of lead time, right? They need a couple of years to procure those, to build them, to... you know, long lead components, what, what have you. We're starting to see delays in Europa Clipper because there is a disagreement between the White House and Congress about what launch vehicle it should use.
More even importantly for the mission, if you're going to use a commercial launch vehicle, you need to build to that launch configuration. And you need to add additional shielding for your thermal conditions inside the inner solar system as you loop around Earth and Venus or whatever, you know, as whatever configuration you need to get out to Jupiter.
So, the mission needs to know what it's gonna launch on, what its thermal [00:51:00] environment is going to be. And then, also, we don't want this mission to sit around in storage for a couple of years waiting for a rocket to launch it. The whole two-and-a-half year advantage of the SLS disappears if it sits in storage for three years before a rocket is ready, right? This is an increasing worry for me that this is a problem. And I say we've seen Congress start to acknowledge that this is an issue.
We saw in the House authorization bill that was released as a draft the other month we talked about included language to study this problem more thoroughly, but within the appropriations legislation, we're seeing this continual demand that it's ba- functionally illegal for NASA not to use an SLS for Europa Clipper and that it's starting to tie the hands of the mission.
Mat Kaplan: All good considerations. Um, and, and I'll point out that, uh, other bad things can happen if a spacecraft sits in a, in a crate for a, a long time. Read about Galileo, but I also feel compelled to mention a [00:52:00] Falcon Heavy costs less than a 10th of what an SLS will cost, just saying.
Casey Dreier: [laughs] It's relevant context, right?
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. All right. Where else are we under the, uh, this ugly column that I mentioned? Um, you list one other bullet which is hard to believe after we have been talking on this show on the weekly Planetary Radio, about planetary defense and how it looks like there is going to be a, a new and improved version of NEOCam. And it's not in there, the, the way to find these dangerous space rocks?
Casey Dreier: Yeah. Last September, just for context, right, Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA came to a meeting of a, of, of scientist and said that NASA will initiate this new mission called the NEO Surveillance Mission seemingly finally addressing this problem that NOECam couldn't compete within a scientific context. It needed a specific home for [00:53:00] planetary defense to build a space telescope dedicated to finding potentially hazardous near-earth objects, no-brainer mission, right?
We should look for things that could fundamentally destroy all of civilization, maybe give ourselves a heads up a chance to, to react to them. We have a mission. It's been studied for 10 years. It's low cost by NASA standards about five, 600 million, will work for 10 years and meet a congressional mandate to find asteroids 100 meters... 140 meters or larger within 10 years. Actually, the mandate was for this year, but NASA can't meet it because they never had the money.
So, that was exciting, right? The Planetary Society was very excited. We had a press statement in reaction to it. Bill Nye called it perhaps the most important decision in human history to, to look for one of these things, to, to commit to that [crosstalk 00:53:46].
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. It could be.
Casey Dreier: It cou- Yeah. Right. [laughs] There's the potential to be a very important mission. I eagerly opened up the budget request this year looking to see that NEO Surveillance Mission as stated that they would [00:54:00] pursue it. And it was not there. It failed to materialize in the budget. I was shocked. Everyone was surprised because again and just even more contact so if you pull the public about what the most important mission within NASA should be, looking for hazardous near-earth objects is the top, right?
That is the most publicly popular aspect of NASA's program. Mat, do you know what's at the very bottom in terms of public support?
Mat Kaplan: Uh, sending humans. No, it wouldn't be sending humans to Mars. I know I've seen this. Oh, go ahead and tell us.
Casey Dreier: [crosstalk 00:54:33] Sending humans to the moon is the least [crosstalk 00:54:36].
Mat Kaplan: Uh, yes. [laughs]
Casey Dreier: So, it's like a good example of how public opinion does not drive NASA funding, right, because we're talking about a, a $3 billion increase just for this lunar return program and, and functionally no money for this Neo detection effort. Very frustrating.
Mat Kaplan: Brendan, these kinds of surprises, they're not unheard of in, in DC even [00:55:00] when we thought there was a commitment to get something done. I mean this happens, right? [laughs]
Brendan Curry: Yeah, not just in space, but a, a whole host of, uh, other, uh, policy realms um-
Mat Kaplan: Uh-huh.
Brendan Curry: You know, you, you could, uh, you'd go down the list of all types of, uh, initiatives, uh, promulgated by, uh, whatever administration is, uh, residing in the White House at the moment. And Congress can, uh, shrug his shoulders and, and walk away. And it all comes down to how much political capital does a, a president at the moment wanna spend on kind of dragging that initiative whatever it is across the finish line.
It's, it's always kind of interesting when you, you hear a, a statement from a, from an administration on, you know, whatever it is, uh, green energy or anything like that. A lot of folks take it at face value, and the reality is, is that, uh, it's, uh, it's a long drawn-out process. In many ways, the founders made it very [00:56:00] difficult to get things done in Washington in a kind of perverse way.
Those of us who care about space and, again, everyone who's on this podcast and members of the society do care about space, it's up to us to hold our elected official's feet to the fire. If they say, uh, they care about space, well, let's give them opportunity to prove it to us.
Great segue, Brendan, because we have an online, uh, way for you if you're listening to this and you really wanna see a NEO Surveillance Mission planetary defense mission happen. We do have an online forum for you to use to contact your members of Congress to support this. This project needs an additional $40 million this year. In planetary defense within NASA's Planetary Science Division, we wanna bump up that top line by 46 million, 40 of that goes to planetary defense for this NEO Surveillance Mission.
That would help get this mission going for a 2020, uh, mid-2020s launch as [00:57:00] originally planned. So, this is a very affordable mission. I don't know why it didn't make it into the budget. I'm sure Thomas Zurbuchen and the science mission Directorate was serious when they said they wanted to start it. Somewhere through that process and the horse-trading that was happening with this other big request for NASA, my guess is that the Office of Management and Budget seemed to just be skeptical and start zeroing out other new initiatives at the same time.
This is where Congress needs to come in and say this incredibly popular, it's a no-brainer, it's affordable mission, it's been studied, it's been endorsed by the national academies. There's no argument against this mission, right? There, there's no serious [laughs][crosstalk 00:57:38] against this mission. So, this is why we're gonna be, you know, the planetary side is gonna be taking action on this and we're gonna give you an opportunity. You can go to planetary.org/spaceadvocate. You can find the link there. And you, uh, can contact your members of Congress in the United States.
It still staggers me. Obviously, I follow space every day, uh, because it's my job, but also because I think it's awesome anyways, but, [00:58:00] uh, it's almost monthly you hear some... You see something in the regular news about something that's gonna be on a cosmic scale a near-miss. Even this morning, I saw something in the news about something that's pretty sizeable that's gonna miss us, but if it hit us, it would be devastating.
And so, I mean this isn't, this isn't a speculative kind of threat we're facing. This is a real, this is a real thing. It's something that we can do. As Bill says, it's the one natural disaster that's theoretically preventable.
Mat Kaplan: Yup. As long as we, uh, do what we should do, uh, you know, the dinosaurs made the, uh, mistake of not funding a mission like this. Um-
Casey Dreier: Yeah. They were too busy, uh, squabbling about their own [laughs] or is it I need to know my triceratops? [laughs]
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Casey Dreier: All right. Mat, can we talk about the- some good stuff just to wrap this up because I, I do feel like we should mention the good things in this budget.
Mat Kaplan: Please, do. Yeah. Take us back into the good column.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. I mean, it's, it's easy and fun [00:59:00] sometimes [laughs] to focus on the negative things. And there's problems with this budget. There are flaws that we need to address, but the big pictures that we're talking hereabout a NASA budget that's growing by $3 billion to its largest level in 30 years. This is a great position to be in even with the flaws in this budget.
So, I just wanna make that really clear. This is exciting. This is exciting that we're setting up, um, serious effort to return humans to deep space and to the surface of the moon. It's exciting to see major science missions still moving forward, right? The James Webb is continuing. Things like Mars Sample-Return is in this budget and has serious financial projections going forward for a mid-20s launch, 2026 launch.
Mars Sample-Return would begin formulation phase A this year in this budget. And it's requested in the budget. That is very good, right? Exciting to see that. So, [01:00:00] overall, this budget is very strong. It's an exciting budget. It sets up, a really exciting decade of the 2020s if you fix some of these things on the margins. And that's what we're gonna be really focusing on. So, again, I'd, I'd say this is just... I was going back to some historical work in NASA budgeting and planetary budgeting and science budgeting the last couple of weeks.
And I was reminded about the years where we didn't get to talk about big budget increase for [laughs] NASA where everything was cut, and we had to choose among the decimation of missions which ones to throw our support behind because we just couldn't do everything. This is a much better position to be in. And it's... we should appreciate the fact that NASA is a growing broadly supported and dynamic area of the federal government that is going to show big returns for us coming forward.
Brendan Curry: In, in the larger context, the vast majority of federal departments and agencies saw, saw [01:01:00] cuts in their budget submissions.
Casey Dreier: That's true.
Brendan Curry: Uh, uh, NASA and the Pentagon were the real big winners in this budget request. So, as, as Casey says, it, it's not a bad place to start.
Mat Kaplan: Take this with a grain of salt, listeners, if you choose to because we're not particularly objective on this topic. So, we may not be the only force for good, but we're certainly, uh, in there, in that alliance. Casey.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, and we're certainly helped creating the environment where this type of proposal will be taken seriously and embraced more broadly, right? So, we're helping to set the context of this. And, again, we're able to support the things that are really important to our members, right, our planetary exploration, getting humans beyond low Earth orbit, exploring Mars, searching for life, and defending the planet against asteroids and comets.
That's the kind of context we're creating in which these budgets can thrive. And that's what we're gonna be working on this year.
Brendan Curry: And, and Mat, if I can go back real quick to the planetary defense in the, uh, the NEO [01:02:00] Survey Mission, I don't think I've talked to you guys in a while, but, uh, you know, back in October, I brought Casey in to the Pentagon to give a brief about planetary defense because, uh, while NASA under law is chartered with, uh, identifying and tracking po- potential threats, if they do find something that is a threat, it's gonna be the Pentagon's job to take the lead and, uh, try to neutralize and address that threat. And so, we thought it was worth bringing Casey into town to talk, uh, to the Pentagon folks about, about it, and the room was packed.
And we had folks from CIA, the British MOD, the Army, the Air Force space development agency, the NRO. We had, had folks from NASA as well there obviously. And so, it, it speaks to that whole, uh, criticality of this idea that, that a planetary defense, it, it sounds science fictiony, but it's a real thing.
Mat Kaplan: Well, you've proven my point, Brendan. Thank you for that. Gentlemen, I, [01:03:00] I think we can close. Uh, do you have any final comments before we, uh, provide one more bit of encouragement to listeners to, uh, become part of this effort by becoming members of the society?
Casey Dreier: I just want to echo to something Brendan said earlier which is that this is the start of a year-long process. If you don't enga- If you're an American citizen listening to this, if you don't engage in this process, very likely, someone else will. I can guarantee you someone else will. And you have no idea what they're going to say. [laughs] You don't know if you'll agree with them. You probably won't.
And so, if you don't engage, you are functionally invisible in this discussion. So, if you have opinions about this, if you have beliefs that NASA should be doing planetary defense or sending missions to Mars or returning humans to the moon, this is the time to start engaging on that process. And again, we've made some tools for you to do so on our website. So, you can check that out at planetary.org/spaceadvocate.
But, again, this is something that Brendan and I will be working [01:04:00] on, on your behalf now for the rest of the year. We do that because of the support that you give us, but we also do that because you give us the credibility to walk into these rooms as again an independent organization. So, follow us online. I have a, a page on our website that will be included on this, on the show notes for this on NASA's 2021 budget request. And it's our entire budget for the year.
And it'll track all the updates throughout the year about what's happening to this budget key developments in Congress and ultimately the final numbers. So, you can follow this whole progress on our FY2021 NASA budget page.
Mat Kaplan: And much more to come there. As you hinted at Casey, I've seen a little preview of some of this data-crunching that you're working on and, boy, is that gonna be exciting to talk about maybe in next month's, uh, Space Policy Edition on the first Friday in April of 2020. You remind me also Casey of that, uh, it's becoming a tired phrase, but no less, um, [01:05:00] effective, no less accurate, if you're not at the table, you probably are on it. Gentlemen-
Casey Dreier: On the menu.
Mat Kaplan: ... on the menu. [laughs] Sorry. Planetary.org/membership. Join us. Become part of this effort. Uh, everything that you've just heard about, all of this work that is underway and, uh, the fact that we have these two great individuals working on behalf of space exploration, on behalf of you as members, it's all because of those people who have stepped up and become members of the Planetary Society.
Guys, thank you very much. Uh, keep up the great work, and, uh, we'll talk again.
Casey Dreier: Thanks, Mat. Looking forward to it.
Brendan Curry: Thanks, Mat. Always good to be with you.
Mat Kaplan: Our last voice was Brendan Curry, chief of Washington operations for the Planetary Society. And, of course, also Casey Dreier, chief advocate and senior space policy advisor for the Planetary Society. I'm Mat Kaplan, the host of Planetary Radio. Hope you will listen to the weekly Planetary Radio as well. If you are hearing this [01:06:00] shortly after it came out, we've got a special treat coming, my conversation with Ann Druyan, the executive producer, writer, and director of many of the episodes of the new third season of Cosmos. I'll be talking to her on our episode that is released on Wednesday, March 11. Hope you'll join me for that and that you'll join us again next month for the Space Policy Edition. Ad astra, everybody.