Help Change the Conversation about Space, Even Here in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac

Help Change the Conversation about Space, Even Here in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac

November 17, 2011 Opinion

Alexandria, VA – As you’ve probably heard, Congress has just cut NASA’s budget again, below last year’s funding and well below the President’s request.  Next year, this will happen again.  And the year after that.

Some of you may be horrified at this prospect.  And some of you may hope it promotes needed reforms.  It doesn’t really matter, because there’s nothing anyone can do to change the basic math: after entitlements and interest on the debt, fewer and fewer dollars will be available for all discretionary programs.  And today “space exploration” is pretty discretionary.

Back in 1965, when I was six years old, it was different.  Our civilian space program was a key part of America’s existential fight with Soviet Communism, and NASA commanded four percent of the federal budget.  Today NASA is down to a tenth of that.  And it’s going lower still.

While we can’t change this painful reality, we can choose how we respond to it.  One approach is that taken by some U.S. Senators and managers in NASA centers and contractors: Deny reality.  Hope it gets better.  Pretend it will get better.  Keep spending like NASA’s budget will go up.  But for goodness sake don’t make any painful changes to adjust to reality.

Down this road lies more shattered promises and murdered dreams.

The alternative, of course, is to start by accepting reality, changing our approach to deal with it, and then move towards our goals.
The good news is that a lot of smart people all over America have already chosen the second path.  And I’m happy to report that some of them even work here in Washington, D.C.  From young earnest congressional staffers to professional journalists to leaders inside NASA, they know that the status quo isn’t working, and they believe that something more like the “real economy”  might work in space.


We in the Foundation – you and I – have helped to create this cultural awareness.  We have changed the conversation about space, even here in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac.


Compare today to six years ago.  In 2005 a different NASA Administrator proclaimed his bold plan for spending tens of billions to develop not one but two new NASA-unique launch systems, both derived from the then 35-year-old Space Shuttle.  Everyone here in Washington acted like “Apollo on Steroids” was the most natural plan in the world.  So when the Augustine Commission pointed out four years later that it wasn’t affordable or sustainable, a lot of people were genuinely surprised.

Flash forward to today.  Very few people outside of the Senate would bet serious money on the proposed Space Launch System flying this decade, or ever.  (And the Senate is only betting our money, not theirs!)   That skepticism is rampant in trade aerospace publications as well as activist blogs.
But cynicism about the status quo isn’t enough.  You can’t beat even the dumbest plan if you aren’t offering a credible alternative.  That means laying out detailed proposals for alternative policies, strategies and funding priorities.

To win the war for policymakers’ minds and mindsets, the Foundation will have to put more intellectual and persuasive muscle behind our rhetoric.  We’ll need to hire experts to help write white papers, hold news conferences at the National Press Club, and even organize conferences on Capitol Hill.  We’ll find sponsors for much of this, but we’ll need money to go find them, and money to fill in the gaps.


Ultimately, our effectiveness at fighting for our vision inside the Beltway will depend on the financial support we receive from Foundationers like you.


I can’t promise that if you contribute generously we will win every battle.  But I can say that with your help, we can fight the most important battles, and advance our cause of a freer and more prosperous life for our children and grandchildren… a hopeful future we will earn by opening the space frontier, together.



Thanks in advance for giving as much as you can. Tax-deductible donations can be made at


James Muncy
Co-Founder, Space Frontier Foundation