Today I had the pleasure of being part of a Google Hangout on Air Teleconference for the first Space Advocacy Call of 2017. I am honored to have the opportunity to interact with our top space policy staff and Planetary Society’s CEO Bill Nye.
Topics included the latest insights into the future of NASA, analysis of where the new Administration may take the space program, and what The Planetary Society is doing to engage the new Congress and White House to promote our goals.
Space exploration doesn’t just happen. It results from specific decisions made by government and industries acting on behalf of committed citizens. Knowing why, how, and where the decisions for the future of space are made empowers you to better influence their outcome.
Participants were allowed to submit questions during the Google Hangout on Air. Here are the questions I asked during the teleconference:
(Q1) Mat Kaplan: The Gluten Free Nerd, With plans for Orion and moving forward, should we expect approval to increase budget to Nasa through adjustments in proportions of tax funds allocated to NASA?
Casey Dreier: That would be a very important goal. Lets talk about where we are in terms of the big picture here and this is where I think – if anything we’ve learned from 2016 is making political prognostications is a risky game. This is where we’re trying to be aware of what’s happening, but not to make too many long term predictions.
Bill Nye: Presumptions.
Casey Dreier: Thank you, Bill.
Bill Nye: We’re not going to presume that Nasa’s budget will get increased, but we’re hoping it will be based on the idea that we have bipartisan support.
Casey Dreier: And we’re not just hoping – we’re working to make that happen. Here’s where we are though, here’s the math. This is where I think we do honestly have some very strong supporters in congress who are empowering congress, the republicans, who do want to see this grow. Here’s the math: we have from what we understand a very large tax cut coming through, we have the intention to have a large infrastructure spending bill, we have the intention to have increased spending on the military side of the US budget, and we have also had a stated intention to go after, and to diminish and to decrease the part of the budget that’s called non defense discretionary. Basically that’s what funds what we think of as government. That’s where NASA is funded out of, that where the National Science Foundation is funded, the National Endowment for the Arts, roads, veterans, healthcare…you name it – the FBI, homeland security. All of this is funded out of non defense discretionary. They have stated that they want to diminish this over the years by about 20%, over the next 4 years. If NASA’s pot of money that it draws from shrinks, NASA itself is going to have a hard time maintaining its current budget, basically it means it’s growing in proportion to its shrinking pool that it can draw from, much less grow. Now we don’t know for sure this will be the outcome. Parties in power tend to learn to love deficit spending. Right? Because no one wants to, it tends to be very politically unpopular to cut popular programs, go figure. The issues here is that are we really going to see, and this is what no one really knows yet, there’s a very strong contingent in the house of representative in particular, who are truly committed to cutting big portions of government in order to pay for these other items. We don’t know if they’re a big enough contingent yet to override a more moderate wing or more free spending wing of the republic party, or if they find some sort of coalition of democrats and republicans to come together and pass some bigger spending bills. We’re going to find out here relatively soon basically where people true beliefs systems exist and also how committed they are to them in the face of real political consequences.
(Q2) Mat Kaplan: The Gluten Free Nerd, how do you expect Pruitt’s appointment to impact the program based on your current view on the administration’s take on human impact on the environment? And that is the new Secretary of the Interior.
Bill Nye: Mm-hmm.
Casey Dreier: Of the EPA.
Mat Kaplan: I’m sorry, EPA director. Sorry, my mistake.
Bill Nye: EPA, yeah, not Secretary of the Interior. You know, the names are thrown around. Well, I, I think one of the things you talked about a few times, Casey, was regulation and space launches have regulations just like airplane runways and airports. So I imagine they’ll be a way to, I can imagine Mr. Pruitt wanting to enable more launches with fewer, with less energy spent on environmental impact statements. I’m imagining that. And people want to have space ports in New Mexico and Texas. Spaceport is like an airport. But there’s concerns down range. I went by the pad where the big explosion was last September. Man, when a rocket blows up, it’s serious business. So I imagine the Environmental Protection Agency will work less with the Federal Aviation Administration on rocket launches. Casey, do you have any opinion on that?
Casey Dreier: I don’t have any much more to add than that.
Here is the link to watch the entire 2017 Space Advocacy Update.
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