To the Hill! Space Blitz 2006 Takes DC

"Oh, not another spacegroup!"

 

This is one of manyresponses we heard while setting up meetings for the 2006 Space Blitz. Apparently, numerous space advocacy and industry groups had been up to the Hillover the previous month, speaking to appropriators about the importance ofspace exploration.  Even though it may have made it more difficult for usin the scheduling process, this is a great sign.  It showed that the spaceadvocacy community is getting more politically savvy.   In the past,visits by space advocacy groups were few and far between.  Now we arevisiting far more frequently and building up name recognition.  Althoughwe don't yet have the capacity to be as persistent as some of the other issuegroups, we are making great progress.

Despite some initialscheduling issues, the 2006 event which ran from June 5 through 7 was quitesuccessful. We had twenty-four participants from the Space Exploration Alliance(SEA) in this effort, representing the National Space Society, the X-PrizeFoundation, The Mars Society, California Space Authority, AIA, AIAA, AmericanAstronautical Society, The Moon Society, Space Generation Foundation, NationalCoalition of Space States, Aerospace States Association, the Planetary Societyand the National Society for Black Engineers.

This highly-skilled group ofparticipants spoke to forty-five Congressional offices, meeting with ordropping off literature to all offices of the House AppropriationsCommittee.  We were there at a timely period in the budget process--the HouseAppropriations Committee was about to start marking up the budget, so this wasa perfect time to get our message to them.

The main focus of thisyear's event is to request that Congress fund NASA at the full authorized levelof $17.9 billion, which would require an additional $1.1 billion over thePresident's request. This level is required to enable NASA to implement thefull mandate of the 2005 NASA Authorization Act, in which Congress endorsed theVision for Space Exploration.  Specifically, the additional funds willallow NASA to aggressively develop the next generation of space explorationvehicles, while pursuing other important objectives like connecting upcominglunar exploration work with future human exploration of Mars; stimulatingprivate sector efforts with programs like Commercial Orbital TransportationServices (COTS) and the Centennial Challenge program; and sustaining vitalscience missions, including the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF), a dedicatedprobe of the Planet Jupiter's moon Europa, and the Stratospheric Observatoryfor Infrared Astronomy (SOPHIA).

Although most of staffersthat we spoke to mentioned the extremely tight budget, the vast majority ofthese meetings were quite positive and the staffers generally supported human spaceexploration.

One of the constant themeswe heard was actually aimed at NASA itself.  Many in Congress are of theopinion that NASA needs to do a better job of communicating with the generalpublic--why is space exploration important and how does it impact society?

In addition to theCongressional meetings, we had lots of fun.  At lunchtime on June 5th,we were joined for lunch at Tortilla Coast by former Congressman Robert Walker,who discussed the challenges that we faced on the Hill.  That evening,Blitz participants attended a showing of the IMAX production of Roving Mars,and on Tuesday evening, we had a special tour of the Lockheed Space Exploration Vision Center in Crystal City.

This is by no means the endof our political activities for the year.   Only through constantcommunication with Congress can we hope to rival the numerous competitors forever-tighter funds.  In August 2006, we hope to run the Home DistrictBlitz, during which members of various organizations will set up meetings withtheir local Congressional offices during the August Congressional recess. Also in August, the Mars Society will be staging a half-day blitz as part oftheir Conference in Washington, D.C.  Then in the autumn of 2006, we hopeto conduct another small blitz in Washington, D.C.

Needless to say, this hasbecome a very busy political year for the space advocacy community--perhaps themost active ever.  However, we cannot maintain this ambitious and vitalpace without your help.  Please join us at these upcoming events to makesure that human space exploration survives future Congresses and Presidents.

NOTE: The views of this article are the author's and donot reflect the policies of the National Space Society.

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