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Guest: Marcia Smith; Topics: space policy, NASA budgets, returning to the Moon, lunar return costs and policy, the congressional budget process and more.
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We welcomed Marcia Smith of www.spacepolicyonline.com back to the show for a one segment 75 minute discussion focusing on space policy, the FY 2020 budget and process, paying for the lunar return, lunar return time tables of 2024, 2028, creating a space force, and more. Please note that late in the first half hour of our discussion, Ms. Smith lost power and the internet. We were able to get her back on the phone using her cell but shortly her cell phone went out. We were able to reconnectwe with our guest on a backup cell phone and completed our discussion. While you will hear the breaks due to phone line and loss of power interruptions, no content was lost and we completed our full and intended discussion.
We started our discussion with Ms. Smith by talking about the President's Budget Request (PDR) for FY 2020 which President Trump's office submitted on March 11, 2019. We spent time talking about the significance of the PDR, what it means, what Congress does with it and just how relevant it usually is regarding the actual FY budget passed by Congress and eventually signed into law by the president later in the year. As you will hear, our guest explained that two congressional committees in both the House and the Senate, the Appropriations and Authorizations committees each closely examine what to spend federal tax payer dollars on and when firmed up, the House and Senate versions go to compromise to come up with a unified budget to send to the White House. Note that only the appropriation committees have the money to spend. Make sure you listen carefully to how Marcia explained the US budget process as it can be confusing and complex. Again, it is important to understand that only Appropriations bills provide the discretionary funding to entities having already been authorized. The process is slightly different for mandatory spending programs. NASA is a discretionary program lumped together with Commerce, Justice and Science.
Once the process was explained, Marcia talked about the VP and his lunar return timeline for 2024. Part of the discussion focused on the fact that cost for this program was not known, plus many were skeptical. She referenced an recent article by Eric Berger suggesting the program might cost an additional $8 billion per year for NASA though Administrator Bridenstine has said it won't cost that much. Marcia indicated that NASA might submit a lunar return 2024 budget within the coming week or two. You can read Eric's article at https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/04/cost-politics-and-bureaucracy-may-doom-plan-for-2024-moon-landing. Don't miss what our guest said about the 2024 timeline being plausible as well as the 2028 lunar return timeline.
Another topic regarding getting back to the Moon focused on the use of public private partnerships (PPP). Our guest had much to say on this topic and we learned that such public private partnerships were the focus of NASA except for Orion, SLS and the Gateway. Once again, don't miss what our guest had to say on this topic. As a follow on to this topic, a listener asked Marcia about the lunar lander, specifically the one Lockheed has proposed and if that was to be traditional financing with NASA or in the form of a PPP. Another listener asked about the recent oversight comments by Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson regarding the administration's lunar return plans. This led to the topic of possible proposed deep cuts in the science program which are not liked by many in congress, plus other issues that offer some competition to the lunar return plans regarding sources of funding Furthermore, Marcia said that Johnson had said that we should continue to keep our eyes on Mars. Returning to the Moon by 2024 is a political goal as seen by many and some do not see it as a goal of the future for humans in space. Another topic that came up in this part of our discussion was the national debt and the fact that there seems to have been some sort of an agreement to spend an additional $2 trillion on needed infrastructure. As we are approaching a national debt of $23 trillion, then another $2 trillion for infrastructure, would it finally be too much for the nation or would another drop in the bucket, about $40 billions for returning to the Moon be acceptable. These are questions to be answered by congress and the tax payers.
Our guest was asked about the need to create a space force and what it might cost. Marcia spent time going over this with us, talking about the likely outcome and costs for doing a type of space corps within the Air Force. Don't miss this discussion. Let us know what you think regarding these issues. Please post your opinions and thoughts on our blog for this show.
The subject of a continuing resolution came up regarding the NASA FY 2020 budget. We spent time talking abut this, especially since the coming year will be an important election year which may influence members and the administration. Additional comments were offered about the SLS program, Orion, and Senator Shelby.
Dallas called the show to offer his suggestion on how to get back to the Moon without blowing the budget. By the way, for those of you at Space Access, Dallas offered his ideas to the group gathered in Fremont. Marcia and Dallas had a vibrant, detailed & involved discussion which you do not want to miss. They not only discussed policy and costs, but also various type of lunar mission architecture that would be lower in cost than what was being proposed to date by NASA. Later in her discussion with Dallas, Marcia made the point that she was a policy and budget person, not an engineer or mission designer so she really could not comment that much on the different lunar return mission architectures that Dallas was talking about.
Next, Marcia was asked if the Chinese lunar plans were influencing our lunar policy. She reminded us that the Vice President said we needed to fight complacency to get back to the Moon. China was not mentioned. That said, our guest told us about some of the conclusions in the just released DOD 2019 China Military Power Report (
https://media.defense.gov/2019/May/02/2002127082/-1/-1/1/2019_CHINA_MILITARY_POWER_REPORT.pdf). Marcia quickly summarized some of the Chinese lunar plans and timelines mentioned in the report for both 2025 and 2050.
Before the program ended, we talked some more about the budget process and the notional or future years of the budget since we only fund on a one year basis. Listener Helen asked Marcia just how important was it for NASA to return to the Moon for the public. Don't miss what our guest said in response to this question and how she discussed the congressional concern for the opportunity cost imposed on the budget for returning to the Mon. Before we ended the discussion, Marcia was asked about the current partisan divide in the government and how she compared it to earlier times since she has covered these topics for many years. The last big topic was the issue of spacesuit challenges. Not just for the Moon where we have no spacesuits as of yet, not even one in the works. In addition, we have spacesuit challenges for the ISS. This was an important part of our discussion so don/t miss it. The topic of space settlement, specifically lunar settlement came up before we ended the program. Our guest suggested settlement should be something carried out by the private sector not the tax payers. Finally, we await the NASA FY 2020 budget request with cost estimates for returning to the Moon.
Please post your comments/questions for Ms. Smith on our blog. You can contact Marcia Smith through me or her website, www.spacepolicyonline.com.