by Ellen Satterwhite, Vice President

April Newsletter: Space

We’re nerds.

We read a lot—the trades, the long reads, Twitter—because we’re kind of obsessed with translating technology into simple and compelling ideas. This newsletter is an extension of that. But we don’t want to clog your inbox. We’ll just show up here once a month with an issue that hasn’t quite hit yet but is worth getting smart about. We’ll try to keep it fun and a little weird, and most importantly, short.

This month we’re focusing on space, partly because we’re so excited to celebrate the 57th anniversary of the first manned space flight, and also because it’s, well, SPACE. My personal interest in space policy is traced to three beers and a disturbingly existential discussion about space junk and a global financial crisis. “Space Barons” Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have reignited excitement in space exploration. But in the meantime, we’ve got issues here on earth that could muck up the rockets. Specifically: the fissures these new entrants create in the balance of power between established industry and government interests. We’re about to see what “disruption” actually means in an industry where failure is really, really expensive and potentially very dangerous.

— Ellen Satterwhite, Vice President, Glen Echo Group

 

The Deep Thought*
This month, we talked with noted space policy expert Dr. John M. Logsdon, the founder and long-time director of GW’s Space Policy Institute. Read the full interview here.

So: what does the next NASA administrator need to focus on?

JL: Well, establishing his or her—and I’ll say his or her because it’s not clear that it’ll be Mr. Bridenstine—leadership in the organization. The organization has been without a leader—a confirmed leader—for now, what, fifteen months? Fourteen or fifteen months. And any individual that’s coming in, unless he’s well known to the organization, has to establish the fact that they’re in charge and ready to go.

NASA and NOAA received $20.7 billion and $1.85 billion respectively in the budget omnibus, what does that mean for space policy?

JL: Well I think that it demonstrates that the space program has broad and bipartisan support in the Congress. And that some of the changes that the Trump Administration has proposed are not acceptable to Congress—that earth observation programs will go on, that the cancellation of the next big astrophysics program, W First, is not acceptable to Congress, that the Congress recognizes that NOAA provides an essential function in managing the global climate and that that retains its importance. So I think it is an assertion by the Congress that there are two branches of the government involved in this, and that Congress has different views than the Administration.

 

Weedwackers
It’s easy to get lost in the weeds, so let's break it down:

Space 2.0
Private industry is rushing to space; aside from delivering packages to Mars and Teslas in space, the majority of regulatory action will be at the FCC, which will need to approve a round of Non-Geostationary Satellite Applications from companies who want to provide internet from space, mostly. There will be winners (and losers), but there will almost certainly not be enough money to go all the way ‘round. In the meantime, Wall Street is pretty bullish about established American space and satellite leaders.

Rocket Man?
The President (and Congress) loves space, but is the White House ready for the realities? We used to have a multi-agency policy for space junk, but: there are five agencies with jurisdiction, and three of them don’t have leaders. (Speaking of: how does the President's feud with Jeff “owns the Washington Post” Bezos affect Blue Origin?)

In space, no one can hear you scream
Do not Google “space sounds” because it’s terrifying; listen to these instead.

 

TL;DR
Something fun—or weird—every month.

Curiosity Rover just spent its 2,000th Solar Day on Mars. And the search for exoplanets is happening in our backyard. Bonus: a self-professed space geek is cataloging a quest to visit all the space artifacts.

 

What’s sticking with us
Still planning to see a “A Wrinkle in Time,” if only to watch Oprah inspire the next generation.  We know that what we see on the screen, and online, inspires us to think bigger. I want my nieces to be Rocket Women or join SEDS or the International Space University (ISU). Maybe they can just skip latrines and other summer-camp joys and go straight to the stars. Kids today aren’t messing around.  

 

#FOMO
What you should be reading or where you should be.

 

*Glen Echo Deep Thoughts is an homage to the great Jack Handy, who said deeply, when talking about space: “Better not take a dog on the space shuttle, because if he sticks his head out when you're coming home his face might burn up.”