The Space AdvocateJan 21, 2021

The Space Advocate Newsletter, January 2021

From the Chief Advocate

Space advocate cover capitol stars

I watched with horror as a riotous mob descended upon the U.S. Capitol Building on 6 January, disrupting the peaceful transfer of power for the first time in the nation's history.

I invited Jared Zambrano-Stout, who previously worked for Republicans on Capitol Hill and served as the first Chief of Staff of the National Space Council under the Trump Administration, as a guest on the latest episode of the Space Policy Edition to help me process this event. It's not your normal episode of the podcast, but these are not normal times. I hope you listen.

Despite everything, the constitutional guardrails held. Vice-President Pence certified the election. And yesterday, Joe Biden was sworn as the 46th President of the United States, ushering a new and somewhat uncertain era for space policy.

He will inherit a NASA on the cusp of a great and exciting decade. With strong funding for science, a clear set of well-crafted space policies from the previous administration, and new hardware (nearly) ready to carry humans beyond Earth for the first time in half a century.

Ronald Reagan said that "freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It has to be fought for and defended by each generation." I accept this challenge, as I hope you do, and appreciate that, in a democracy, nothing is ever settled—not even the idea of democracy itself.

Until next month, in which we'll return to our normal space programming.

Casey Dreier
Chief Advocate, The Planetary Society

The 2021 Day of Action

Advocate for space—virtually

With a new Administration and new Congress, it's more important than ever for space advocates to engage with their elected officials. Make a difference and join The Planetary Society's Day of Action on 31 March. We'll schedule your meetings and provide talking points and online training. Meetings will be held virtually—no travel necessary. Register today. Open to anyone with a U.S. address.

Space Policy Highlights

Sls core stage hotfire 1st test

Op-Ed: “Pro-space” lawmakers on wrong side of history after Capitol riot ( "The uncomfortable truth now facing the space community, in the days after the horrific events at the Capitol Jan. 6, is that some of the most prominent Republican supporters of space in Congress are on the wrong side of history. In the days leading up to the formal, and usually only ceremonial, certification of the Electoral College results, members like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Reps. Brian Babin (R-Texas) and Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) announced their intent to challenge several states’ electors, citing baseless claims of voter fraud...Those actions helped fuel a protest, which became a riot. Afterward, those members disavowed the violence, but were hardly repentant."


Its future uncertain, the National Space Council releases final report for the Trump-era ( "Scott Pace resigned as Executive Secretary of the Space Council on December 31. The White House released a final report of the Space Council’s activities over the past four years. It is a well written and useful summary of what the Space Council wanted to achieve and what they accomplished under the leadership of Vice President Mike Pence."

You can read the full report here. After the report was released, the President signed an additional space policy directive regarding global navigation and positioning systems.


Congress came through for NASA's science missions, but not Artemis ( NASA's final fiscal year 2021 budget was signed into law in the waning days of 2020. The budget is responsive to a number of The Planetary Society’s advocacy goals for the year: it restored funding for the Mars Curiosity and Odyssey missions; it continued development of the Roman Space Telescope (neé WFIRST); and it called for a 2025 launch of the NEO Surveyor mission, though it didn’t provide the necessary funding to ensure that timeline.


After a decade, NASA’s big rocket fails its first real test ( "For a few moments, it seemed like the Space Launch System saga might have a happy ending. Beneath brilliant blue skies late on Saturday afternoon, NASA’s huge rocket roared to life for the very first time...About 50 seconds into what was supposed to be an 8-minute test firing, the flight control center called out, “We did get an MCF on Engine 4.” This means there was a “major component failure” with the fourth engine on the vehicle. After a total of about 67 seconds, the hot fire test ended."

NASA subsequently identified over-cautious test constraints as one of the reasons for the premature shutdown. A second test appears likely, and could occur within the next month.

Photo: The 4 engines of NASA's Space Launch System's core stage roar to life during their first "hot fire" test at Stennis Space Center. Credit: NASA.


Jim Bridenstine departs NASA, hopes Artemis continues ( "Bridenstine said he hasn’t made any plans for his future after NASA, other than returning to Oklahoma and spending time with his family there. He’ll be closely following the agency, planning to watch next month’s landing of the Mars 2020 rover and the Artemis 1 launch. He also pledged to support whomever succeeds him as the leader of NASA. “Whoever the next NASA administrator is, I’m going to be all-in,” he said in the interview. “However I can help them, I want to help them.”

Planetary Radio: Space Policy Edition

Planetary Radio Space Policy Edition logo

A Mob at the U.S. Capitol

This is not your normal episode of the Space Policy Edition, but these are not normal times. The centuries-old U.S. tradition of the peaceful transfer of power ended on 6 January 2021 as a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol building during the certification of the electoral college vote, leaving 5 dead. Hours later, more than one hundred members of Congress voted to object to the certified electoral results of Arizona and Pennsylvania. Jared Zambrano-Stout, former congressional staffer and chief of staff of the National Space Council, joins the show to help process these events. We’ll return to our usual space policy content in February.