Space Groups Planning New and Revived Advocacy Activities

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WASHINGTON — The beginning of debate on NASA’s 2016 budget proposal is also the kickoff for a new series of space advocacy activities scheduled for the next month, including an invitation-only “space summit” and the resurrection of a grass-roots space lobbying campaign.

The Pioneering Space National Summit, taking place Feb. 19-20 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here, is intended to be a “broadly based gathering of national level decision makers” and others to identify what it calls “strategic knowledge gaps” that prevent greater space development and settlement activities, according to the event’s website.

Rick Tumlinson
Space advocate Rick Tumlinson indicated that participants in the event would be expected to come to a consensus on steps that need to be taken to address those knowledge gaps. “That is going to be pushed out into the world as an agreement between people in our community,” he said. Credit: Moonandback Media video capture

Participation in the summit is by invitation only, and is organized by the New Worlds Institute, a project of the EarthLight Foundation, a Texas-based nonprofit organization founded by long-time space advocate Rick Tumlinson. Neither Tumlinson nor others organizing the summit responded to questions about the event.

The event’s agenda, posted on its website, consists primarily of a series of working group sessions. The first day is devoted to issues of vision and strategy regarding spaceflight, while the second examines knowledge gaps that need to be closed to enable that strategy.

In a speech at the SpaceVision 2014 conference in November in Durham, North Carolina, Tumlinson indicated that participants in the event would be expected to come to a consensus on steps that need to be taken to address those knowledge gaps. “That is going to be pushed out into the world as an agreement between people in our community,” he said.

Another long-time space advocate is reviving a grass-roots lobbying effort focused on space transportation and related issues. March Storm started in 1995 as a project of the Space Frontier Foundation, with a handful of individuals visiting congressional offices, seeking support for government programs and related policy initiatives to support more affordable space access and commercial space activities.

Charles_Miller-National_Press_Club
Charles Miller, one of the founders of the original March Storm space advocacy event, is now restarting it. Credit: National Press Club

The annual event, named for the month it took place and the wave of participants who spent up to a week on Capitol Hill, went on hiatus several years ago. Charles Miller, one of the founders of the original event, is now restarting it. “It worked well in the 1990s, but I wasn’t in a position until now to reorganize it,” he said in a Feb. 11 interview.

This year’s event, planned for March 15-19, will address a range of issues, according to the “Citizen’s Space Agenda” posted on the March Storm website. They include full funding of NASA’s commercial crew program, extension of the current restrictions on safety regulations for commercial human spaceflight, and creation of a “Cheap Access To Space” prize.

Miller said he anticipates at least 30 people participating in this year’s March Storm, which would allow them to meet with at least 200 offices. He said a number of organizations, including the Space Frontier Foundation and National Space Society (NSS), are helping coordinate this year’s event.

The early success of March Storm — Miller credited it with a variety of legislative successes, including passage of commercial launch acts in 1998 and 2004 — had led other organizations to adopt similar lobbying efforts. The Space Exploration Alliance, a coalition of 10 organizations, has held a “Legislative Blitz” on policy issues since 2004.

The 2015 Legislative Blitz, scheduled for Feb. 22-24, will include meetings with more than 150 congressional offices, with about 70 people participating, event organizer Rick Zucker said Feb. 12. This year’s agenda is still tentative, he said, but will likely include requests for support for both human spaceflight and robotic space science missions.

Despite the proximity of the Legislative Blitz to March Storm, and some overlap in participation — NSS is supporting both events — both Miller and Zucker said there were no plans to coordinate the two events or even combine them.

Miller argued that March Storm thrived in the past on developing its own specific, coherent agenda and set of legislative priorities. “We’ve been very successful with that approach,” he said. “March Storm is kind of unique.”