Unfortunately, despite these successes, we have begun losing important ground. For example, in the 2009 Mars Exploration Joint Initiative, NASA was to collaborate with the European Space Agency on astro-biological research, delivering an orbiter, two landers, and a rover to Mars between 2016 and 2018. When the Obama administration announced its 2013 budget, however, the program was canceled and the funding redirected to bolster the dramatically over-budget James Webb Space Telescope. Since the U.S. withdrew from the joint initiative, the ESA has reorganized and is now working with the Russian Federal Space Agency on the project.
Although MAVEN is close enough to launch to be considered a done deal, funding for InSight could be in danger if NASA’s budget is cut too deeply this year. And with such shaky funding prospects for unmanned missions, the outlook for manned missions is bleak indeed.
The future of America’s space program depends largely on funding from Congress. But with concerns over the pending U.S. budget crisis, many members of Congress are reticent to allocate money for programs they deem frivolous or unlikely to produce a substantial return on investment. Also, the idea of manned missions to Mars doesn’t enjoy the same widespread public enthusiasm at this stage as the Moon race in the 1960s.
So what can we do to persuade members of Congress to support policies and funding favorable to space exploration? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Decision-makers on Capitol Hill need to know that their constituents do support a strong and sustainable space program. But they receive letters, emails, and online petitions by the thousands, on every imaginable topic. In-person, pre-scheduled meetings hold the greatest potential for making an impact on individual members of Congress.
- Not every member of Congress is well-informed about the benefits of a robust space program. Go in armed with clear talking points that a layman can understand.
- They need compelling reasons for supporting specific missions in space, beyond generalizations about America’s primacy and the future of the human race. Presenting them with ready-made, goal-driven, financially viable plans gives them something they can support immediately, with a minimum of staff-hours spent on research.
“I’m no expert. I strongly support space exploration, but I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Great news – you don’t have to! That’s the idea behind the SEA Legislative Blitz, an annual grassroots campaign in which members of thirteen
space advocacy groups, including the Mars Society, meet with members of Congress to educate them about space exploration and to advocate for specific endeavors. On Day One, organizers will spend time training participants. They will brief you on the members of Congress that you and your small group will meet, giving you talking points customized for that person and his or her constituents’ interests.[For more information, read this excellent article by Kelly Thomas, a then 17-year-old participant in the 2012 Legislative Blitz.]
“What if I want to go but can’t?”
Great news again – the SEA does this every year, so if you can’t participate next month, you can start making plans now for 2014. Butthis year is crucial, given the cuts that NASA has already endured. If you can’t make it to Capitol Hill this year, try something local: do a little research and make an appointment with your own member of Congress (or his or her aide) at the local office. Also, consider joining an advocacy group, like the Mars Society, and get involved with a local chapter.
It is our destiny to explore and settle space. We have made great strides since the 1960s, but our collective momentum and resolve have faltered. Please get involved today. Send a message to America’s leaders that we want to continue our great tradition of human exploration and discovery.
Kerri Beauchesne is a high school English teacher, a Ph.D. student (English) at the University of Texas (Arlington) and a newly appointed staff writer for the Mars Society.
[Images: Parabolicarc.com, Exploremars.org, Unigraz.at]