By melding grass roots, day-on-Capitol Hill tactics with rock star-caliber rabble rousing from nerd icon Bill Nye, the Planetary Society contributed to a rare moment of congressional harmony earlier this summer when both the House and the Senate appropriations committees agreed that NASA’s Planetary Science Division should get about $1.3 billion in 2014.
The White House requested only $1.2 billion next year for the division, which explores the solar system with robotic probes. That would be sharp decrease from 2012, when that activity was funded at $1.5 billion.
One administration official privately credited planetary science advocates as the best organized interest group in the NASA science community. That’s high, if grudging, praise in Washington circles and it demonstrates that even a small, modestly funded organization with as narrow a constituency as planetary science can make a difference.
In a recent blog posting, Casey Dreier, the Planetary Society’s advocacy and outreach strategist, attributed the organization’s success in large part to a lobbying effort focused primarily on members of the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that fund NASA. “Decisions they make early on in the process tend to ride through to the end,” he wrote.
Considering the Planetary Society’s roots — its founders came out of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the institution legendary for sending probes to the distant corners of the solar system as well as the surface of Mars — perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising that the organization has a knack for finding its target and hitting it.