Advocacy: Your Long-Term Investment in Space Exploration
Advocacy is action we take to promote the goals in space exploration that reflect the values of our members. It’s going to legislators, policymakers, and government officials and making an argument on your behalf, over and over again, year in and year out.
There’s an old saying in Washington, D.C.: “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” If The Planetary Society is not deeply involved in how NASA gets and prioritizes its funding, someone else will be. These people may or may not share our general goals for space exploration. Very often, they do not.
The Planetary Society’s Advocacy Program provides each Society member a voice in this process. It gives you access to the halls of power, and provides a respected, independent voice during decisions that impact the future of space exploration in the United States and beyond.
Funding for our Advocacy program is critical. The more funding we have, the more effective we can be, which ultimately translates into more missions, more science, and more exploration.
This year, we must raise at least $100,000 to sustain recent growth and create a slew of new educational materials to empower our members.
The $100,000 will help support:
- salaries for two full time Planetary Society employees
- development of an updated Advocacy section of planetary.org, with educational materials to train members to be effective space advocates
- travel to Washington, D.C.
- travel to science conferences to build support among the scientific community
What We Do
Broadly speaking, the Advocacy program engages in three major activities:
I know, it sounds like a dirty word. But it’s not always what you think. The Planetary Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which means we cannot promote individual candidates in elections or contribute money to political campaigns. What we can do is promote ideas. When we lobby, we meet with a Congressperson or Senator to discuss specific issues in space exploration. At the moment, that’s usually about the lack of funding for planetary exploration within NASA and the future of the human spaceflight program. Again, as a nonprofit, our only tools are reason and argument, and the ability to be there, face-to-face “at the table,” as much as possible.
Our lobbying consists of weekly interactions with congressional and Administration staff by our D.C.-based staff, and frequent (roughly every few months) visits by our west-coast based staff, board, and CEO Bill Nye.
Outreach and Organization of Society Members and Supporters
Over the past few years, we’ve added tens of thousands of people to our list of active space advocates—those who write Congress and the White House at critical moments. We’ve also added tools for our members to easily call their representatives, and we’ve organized visits to congressional offices in Washington, D.C., like our Legislative Blitz this past spring (check out our two reports on The Space Advocate channel of Planetary TV here and here).
No other space organization has the numbers we do. We’ve heard time and time again that our members’ emails and telephone calls are helping our cause. That’s your voice being heard in Washington, DC.
We’re also working to develop educational videos to help you understand the complex process of how NASA gets its funding in the political process in our new series, The Space Advocate. Our Advocacy team makes regular appearances at major scientific conferences to build awareness and activity among space scientists, so that everyone—the public and the scientific community—are working together.
If we disagree with the direction of NASA, we’re not just going to complain. We’re working to generate new policy ideas and analysis to help find a better path forward. This can be hard, and can be controversial, but we need to provide solutions to major problems. Our new staff make this possible to a greater degree than ever before, like with our recent Humans Orbiting Mars workshop in Washington, D.C. that will help lay the groundwork for an affordable, sustainable path towards the surface of the red planet.
A major goal in our policy development in the coming years is to find a workable solution to the problem of human spaceflight at NASA. Where do we go? How can we afford it? What is is politically possible? If we can propose a constructive solution that can gain traction within NASA and within Congress, the Society and its members have the opportunity to influence the future of human spaceflight for decades. In March, our major workshop in Washington, D.C. explored the path of humans to the surface of Mars via an orbit-first mission in the early 2030s. The idea is now widely discussed and a serious contender for a way forward with human planetary exploration.
Our primary goal in the past few years has been to increase funding for NASA’s Planetary Science Division, which funds missions like New Horizons and Curiosity. We’ve been successful.
In the past three years, NASA’s Planetary Science Division has received a total of $368.5 million more than requested by the President. This additional money has helped to lessen the severity of the cuts initially proposed by the White House in 2012. We helped save the Mars 2020 rover, the Cassini mission at Saturn, the Mars Opportunity Rover, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from cancellation. We generated political support to begin a mission to Europa, accelerated the pace of smaller missions, and mitigated losses to scientific funding.
Our goal of $1.5 billion per year for Planetary Science is known throughout Washington, and the House’s budget for 2016 would meet that goal. The President’s own budget for Planetary Science has changed dramatically in the past few years, and while it is still beneath what we need, the trend lines are growing dramatically and exceed our goal in 2019.
Society members have donated $275,318.42 to the Advocacy program in that time. Doing the math, this works out to a roughly 133,845% “return on investment.” Not too shabby.
The Planetary Society has also grown into a constant presence in space policy circles. Our D.C. based staff participates in policy coalitions, hearings on the hill, and professional gatherings in a variety of policy circles. We submit written testimony for all major hearings on space issues, and have generated awareness of the importance of planetary exploration—both human and robotic.
Four years ago, we had no dedicated staff for Advocacy. Now our Advocacy team at The Planetary Society consists of two full-time staff and one part-time consultant:
- Casey Dreier, Director
Casey joined the Society in 2012 and has built the Advocacy program into a full-time, highly-regarded core component of the organization.
- Jason Callahan, Space Policy Adviser
Jason worked as a contractor for NASA for three years, and is finalizing his Ph.D in space policy and history from Georgia Tech.
- Bill Adkins, Washington, D.C. Consultant
Bill was the staff director of the House of Representatives Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee where he led the subcommittee’s legislative and oversight activities of NASA and other civilian space activities. Previously, he was a Legislative Assistant and National Security Fellow in the U.S. Senate where he handled national security issues.
You can learn more about our team in the latest video of The Space Advocate:
We also have a Policy Committee on our Board of Directors, which provides the Advocacy staff with critical feedback and invaluable experience. They are:
- Dr. John Logsdon
Founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University
- Dr. Scott Hubbard
Former Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center and first “Mars Czar” at NASA
- Dr. Heidi Hammel
Executive Vice-President, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy
- Fillmore Wood, J.D.
Former Vice President of British Petroleum