Congressional town hall meeting at JPL

Senator Sam Brownback and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, the chairmen of the Senate and House subcommittees that oversee NASA, will jointly hold a town hall meeting Tuesday at 3 pm PDT (6 pm EDT) at JPL. The topic, as you might imagine, is the Vision for Space Exploration. For those not at the lab, the event will be webcast.

17 comments to Congressional town hall meeting at JPL

  • And a lot of good it will do, I’m sure.

    I’ve paced the halls of Congress several times while living in Virginia, presenting my “future of space” pitch as a private citizen. I’ll bet after I leave the office, the unimpressed and under-educated staffer tosses it into the waste basket.

    Town hall meetings sound nice, but generally serve no other purpose than to pacify the public into thinking elected officials give a damn.

  • Perry Noriega

    Then there are several alternatives. A professional lobbying firm could be hired to make a slick, professional presentation of public interest and the public’s stake in developing and settling, not just exploring, space. A specific set of near term plans, network organized and privately initiated, yet contributing to our ability or understanding to keep people in space for longer and longer periods of time, would wake up Senators and Representatives to the power of the network. This would also demonstrate that this program is important to groups of organized common men and women who want space to be open to them in their and their children’s futures, and near futures too. And lastly, it should be made clear that the network means web available on the Internet can and will be brought to bear in favor of those politicians who support a new space plan, and against those who oppose it. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as there is much else that could be done by converged, organized groups of people, which the space community unfortunately so far, lacks. We need convergence, network means, and professional acumen to sway congressmen, change minds, and gather converts to the spacefaring cause.

  • Well, I went to the JPL meeting with low expectations, but despite that I left discouraged and pretty much feel like giving up hope on NASA.

    A few people had obviously put in some real thought, but on the whole the JPL old-timers proved that they can small-minded, linear thinkers in a situation which requires imaginative and constructive reasoning. Senator Brownback need not have traveled all the way from Washington to hear the kinds of things he did.

  • You’re exactly right, Kevin! I’m sure Sen. Brownback gets plenty of crazy religious people telling him to just send the non-religious people to the Moon (as is what happened at JPL today) back in Kansas….

  • Anonymous

    What happened at JPL?

  • Buck Galaxy

    Details please?

  • From memory (expect lots of errors):

    Estimated average audience age – 55 years
    Estimated audience size – 250
    Aprox. % of JPLers – 80%
    Estimated people there my age (27) or younger – 10 (including the camera man, myself, and Derek Shannon (see earlier comment))

    Sen. Brownback gave a 5 min intro to set the stage for the town hall meeting, making it clear that he was highly interested in innovative suggestions for how to structure the legislative architecture of the exploration initiative. Rep. Rohrabacher said a few words and was congratulated by JPL President Charles Elachi on having triplets this month. Also in attendance was Buzz Aldrin and Gen. Pete Worden.

    – The first audience speaker spoke eloquently and extolled the virtues of prizes and industry collaboration. Sen. Brownback asked people who did/didn’t support prizes to raise their hands. Sen. Brownback asked the audience speaker how much the prize award should be. This seems to be a point of particular interest, since Sen. Brownback asked precisely the same question of Elon Musk at the launcher hearing a couple of weeks ago. Back then, Elon Musk said something like it should be 10% of the amount the government would otherwise spend on developing that capability. This time, the answer was “as much as possible” to which there was laughter and Sen. Brownback rephrased the question, how little can we spend on prizes? Nothing as good as Elon’s answer was put forward.

    – The gentleman sitting on my left believed that the focus of NASA should not be on exploring Mars but rather on studying the dynamics of Earth, global warming, etc. Knowing of Rep. Rohrabacher’s views on this subject I watched the expression on his face as this was said. Rep. Rohrabacher patiently waited and then said that he couldn’t disagree more with said gentleman. So began a period of booing and a sequence of rebuttals from various members of the audience throughout the remainder of the evening.

    – Someone else suggested that looking at computer images was just as good as listening to an astronaut give a first-person account of their experiences of exploration/other planets. Most people in the room disagreed in a reserved way.

    – One lady declared that we should spend billions of dollars on space, so that unbelievers in Jesus could all be sent to the moon. This was arguably the highlight of the meeting, and I briefly imagined churches passing around collection plates for money to send me to the moon, and then happily recalled the episode of South Park where the church sent missionaries to convert aliens on the planet Marklar and so held a TV funding drive for a spaceship, photon torpedoes etc.

    – One elderly lady spoke at length, beginning by mentioning her two congressional science medals, moving on to discredit herself by saying something like the settlement of the moon would be impossible because the lack of magnetic field on the moon, and therefore the radiation would kill everyone. She finished up by saying that NASA wouldn’t spend $100K to maintain the only laser capable of ranging the moon (to the accuracy of ~1 cm) and that she had spent the last 20 years of her life fighting for that small slice of funding. Sen. Brownback listened with a concerned expression.

    – Sen. Brownback at some point took a show of hands who thought we would be on the moon in 30 years, then 20 years. Very few thought 20 years.

    – One gentleman referred to the human exploration program as not generating any useful science (except on how humans degrade in space) and referred to the space station as a useless tin can. He was against the exploration initiative because science had so far been much better conducted by robotic craft than humans (*).

    – One gentleman in front of me said that these JPL scientists understandably viewed the exploration initiative as a purely scientific endeavor, when in fact there were other less tangible motivations too, such as exploration itself. He did not mention reversing the decline of the science base or the military justifications, but nevertheless he was about the only person who had taken on board the essence of this new initiative. He is the NASA employee I would keep.

    – Sen. Brownback asked how people might feel if someone else were to colonize the moon and then there was some discussion of international cooperation, particularly with Russia. Sen. Brownback seemed unaware of the pitfalls of international collaboration in making projects _very_ expensive, but did make a good point that ISS would be in a very bad position right now if we had not partnered with Russia.

    – Sen. Brownback wrapped up by again thanking JPL for their excellent success with the Mars Rovers, which makes his job of justifying space expenditure on Capitol Hill much easier. Rep. Rohrabacher had earlier expressed the same sentiment, and my own view these expressions were absolutely sincere. Retired congressman Robert Walker said a similar thing to NSS Exec Director George Whitesides at the Aldridge Commission hearing in New York. He basically said that legislators realize the value of space exploration but that without the public continually asking questions about space exploration and a general impression of broad-based popular support, that it was very easy to vote money to veteran’s affairs rather than NASA (they compete in the same budget category). Shortly thereafter the Space Exploration Alliance was announced, of which NSS is a member.

    (*) On a personal note, this was the viewpoint I had expected from JPL and which I feel is small-minded linear thinking. If we are still conducting robotic science and human operations the same way we do now in 10-15 years, once the exploration initiative gets going, then I may as well go into the finance sector right now and forget my dreams –because they will never happen with the status quo.

  • Harold LaValley

    I would like to say thank you Kevin, on the excellent and well written minutes to this meeting. I myself wanted to watch but was not able to due to the time of broadcast.

  • Thanks, Kevin, for the details. As I suspected would be the case, I didn’t miss anything.

    As for the Jesus freak and her comments, all I can say is that for complicated reasons, space somehow attracts both the eccentric and the dull, but not the average citizen (not in a sustained, meanigful way, in any event). What we need is a reasoned approach to the exploration and exploitation of space, something I have not seen during my lifetime.

  • Perry Noriega

    At the meeting at JPL concerning how to implement President Bush’s vision for space to the general public outside the space community, and to those members of the space community who are skeptical to prejudicially rejective of any change in space policy and programs that might affect their money trough, well, I have news for you, things have changed, and are changing, so get used to it. The Columbia accident and the investigation into its causes in NASA, the utterly ignominious infighting and ineffectiveness displayed at the World Space Congress in the fall of 2002, and the US Aerospace Commission’s findings all point to the need for either change in how we conduct space in the US, or declare what we’ve done a flat failure, and cede leadership to the Chinese, Russians, Europeans, or others who have more discipline, include everyone in deciding what to do in such a way as to change our ways, and just go out and do it.
    I would like to see the space community become a lot more activist for space, in every sense of the word. Instead of having NASA’s Jim Garvin state he is “not political”, let him take a stand, and be way more activist and militant for space. And I mean converged, metadisciplinary, cooperative between robots and human beings activist, and hit the wimpy,”well-I just don’t know whether or not space is really worth it” wimps right between the eyes, like they deserve, like they’ve deserved for too many years to count, and take a stand for space that does not shift with the political winds.
    Too many space activists of either major political party need to get some huevos, and take a stand that is firm, and trump politics as it is, instead of allowing party to trump space as it has been till now. One of the ways to be a leader is to do things others are afraid to do, and that involves going where no one has gone before, including taking a stand for converged space. This would demonstrate once and for all that space development/settlement is bigger than politics as we have practiced it till now, space can stand on its own and win battles for hearts and minds out in the general public, and those that favor space taking its rightful place amongst the issues discussed and decided on these latter days aren’t going to wimp out, back down, and take no for an answer to doing anything in space any more. This applies to Bush’s vision for space and going to Mars, back to the Moon, or anywhere else. Space needs activists, militants, showmen, hustlers, like any other successful movement has done for three decades or more, and we as a converged, diverse, activist space community won’t settle for second place in the scheme of things anymore.
    By the way, for you Kevin Parkin, going into finance might be the best thing you could do for the future of space, as our past ways of getting money for space via conventional methods are as dead as Joseph Stalin’s grandmother, or treasury department surpluses, it is dead. We need new thinking concerning how to raise the huge sums of capital for space that also involves the common man and woman in doing as much as possible in space, and most of all, settling the property rights and inclusive problems space development /settlement has been crippled by for decades, and just do it. Go into finance Kevin, and show us how we can raise money for space outside conventional means, which don’t work, and find or invent new ways to fund it that do work.

  • The federally funded inducement prize is a good compromise between government and private industry. The government does what it does best–raise capital–and private industry does what it does best–compete.

  • I would agree with that statement. The Centennial Challenge is a major step forward, and I hope it remains a long-running program open to new ideas. It represents the essence of innovation, inspiration, and freedom, ideals NASA should follow whole-heartedly.

  • Harold LaValley

    Good for private enterprise but Nasa will still need to deal with the not invented here mentality for it to have a lasting effect on the space programs and of exploration.

  • Yes, I have personal experience with the “not invented here” and a number of other maladaptive mentalities at NASA. In March I had the misfortune of encountering most of them together in a single code T representative.

    The remarks of this particular individual were so inflammatory and sensitive that I dare not give an account publicly until I’ve consulted a lawyer.

    Suffice it to say I failed to secure NASA funding for the Microwave Thermal Rocket, the Microwave Thermal Thruster, and a new of very simple approach to on-orbit assembly using nylon – a concept I hope to write more about in the summer, if I can find funding to keep me going.

    The latter concept the representative didn’t even want to hear about. So, this diabolical individual I regard as my canary: I will know NASA reforms are for real when this person no longer has a job, or is put in a role where he can no longer strangle innovation.

  • Harold LaValley

    I would love to here more about these items though I have nothing to do with Nasa they sound very interesting “Microwave Thermal Rocket, the Microwave Thermal Thruster, and a new of very simple approach to on-orbit assembly using nylon.”

    I am assuming the microwave thermal thuster is some what like a ION drive engine but with less over head/ wieght.

  • Harold,

    The aforementioned propulsion system is more akin to a nuclear thermal rocket in the way it works. I was considering writing a more widely accessible article in the summer, but in the meantime the papers are here:

    As I alluded to earlier, securing funding is my #1 priority. At the moment I don’t own enough of my own time to do research or write papers and articles on rockets, propulsion, or on-orbit assembly. This is the state of university funding in space research today.

  • Harold LaValley

    2004 Workshop

    To kickoff Centennial Challenges, NASA’s new program of prize contests, NASA will host a workshop on June 15-16 in Washington, DC. The purpose of the workshop is to:

    Gather ideas for Challenges,

    Develop rules for specific Challenges and gauge competitor interest in various potential Challenges, and Promote competitor teaming.

    This workshop will be a key input into Centennial Challenges planning, helping to determine what specific Challenge competitions NASA announces in 2004 and 2005 and the rules of those competitions. All potential Centennial Challenge competitors, including interested members of industry, academia, students, and the general public, are invited to attend.