As the CEO of The Planetary Society, Bill Nye has written an open letter to President Trump, highlighting the need for prioritizing space research, and for supporting NASA’s space exploration efforts in particular. Bill Nye offers the president a comprehensive five-point plan for steering NASA’s objectives and orientation during his tenure:
1. Keep Mars as the Goal
Mars became the central objective of NASA’s efforts during the previous administration, and Bill Nye urges a continued focus on the same path. It is also important to insist on Mars because there are voices in the Trump administration that want to divert resources away from the Red Planet and focus on exploration of the moon. A vocal example of this is Newt Gingrich who has advocated “a permanent moon base”. For Bill Nye and The Planetary Society, a diversion of efforts to the moon would mean that a manned mission to Mars might be delayed by a generation.
2. Orbit Mars First
This point has emerged from earlier work at The Planetary Society, such as workshops on solving problems of inhabiting Mars, which have found that orbital engagement should precede a full landing on the Red Planet. This was the original strategy for the moon landing, where Apollo VIII orbited the moon and Apollo XI landed on it. The Planetary Society has suggested that in an orbital-first strategy, humans can be stationed in Mars’ orbit by 2033, and thereafter landed on the Mars surface by 2039.
3. Expand NASA’s Scientific Programs
Bill Nye draws attention to the ‘jobs’ element of NASA’s contribution, pointing out that there are tens of thousands of high-skilled jobs in engineering, manufacturing, and the pure sciences, that exist specifically thanks to NASA’s scientific programs. The report recommends that “at least 30 percent of NASA’s total budget be committed to its Science Mission Directorate,” and that we don’t forget two things: our curiosity and safety. A budget commitment to the science mission “will help humanity better understand its origins, protect us from solar storms, search for life beyond Earth, as well as understand our changing climate,” says the report. NASA’s acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, has already stated that because of Trump’s proposed budget, the agency “will not pursue the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).” Here’s why that matters. Trump signed the ‘NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017’ on March 21, which seems to favor stability over progress, leaving one person pretty unhappy: Elon Musk.
4. Embrace the Commercial Space Industry
The private sector’s role in space exploration has grown enormously over the past decade, Bill Nye notes, and fostering continued entrepreneurial energy and private initiative is a sign of a healthy space industry. Thus Nye advocates continued cooperation between the government and the private sector in the name of science, and again the report strikes on Trump’s passion area: American jobs. “NASA already supports some 17,000 civil servants and tens of thousands of private-sector contractors throughout the country. An agency focused on exploring Mars in partnership with a vibrant commercial sector has the potential to engage many more of our citizens in a 21st-century workforce.”
5. Modestly Increase the Budget, Five-Over-Five
Bill Nye lays emphasis on the fact that NASA does not require a significant amount of money to make the tremendous strides that it does. Nye suggests a fiscal outlay of “five-over-five”, meaning a +5% annual increase in the budget for each of the next five fiscal years. He suggests that such an investment would go a long way in helping NASA to continue its momentum in space exploration.
In his video, Bill Nye urges the president to pay careful attention to these recommendations, noting that the president has the “opportunity to provide clear direction to our nation’s space program,” and that “advances made on [Trump’s] watch could be historic.”
The video component should be seen in the context of a 16-page report produced by The Planetary Society titled “Opportunities for NASA and the New Administration” which was submitted to the NASA transition team before Trump took office. This report elaborates on many of the points articulated in Bill Nye’s video, and highlighted many of the same concerns.
The Planetary Society has been keeping a close eye on the Trump administration’s budget implications for NASA. According to summary analysis posted on their website, the Planetary Society notes that many important changes are already being stipulated or mulled, and further fiscal discussions over the year will have significant consequences for NASA.
As Nye verbalizes, the Trump administration “has the opportunity to lead, by taking this critical first step,” and, in a meeting we’d love to see happen, Nye offers to discuss these points with the president in person.