Recently, I had the unique opportunity to take part in the 27th Citizens for Space Exploration (CSE) advocacy trip to Washington D.C. on behalf of Logical Innovations, Inc. For the past 27 years, a group of citizens from industry and students pursuing degrees in STEM programs from universities have traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress to lobby for support of human space exploration programs.
During the approval phase of the International Space Station (ISS), Congress only approved funding by one vote. That means we were one vote away from never having ISS as a space exploration resource and testbed. It is entirely possible that the advocacy of the CSE group helped sway enough votes through constituency interest for ISS to become a reality.
This year, we returned to ask to complete Orion, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Deep-Space Lunar Gateway; to fund space exploration programs as set forth by the 2017 NASA Authorization Act; to utilize ISS as the unique laboratory it is and extend its mission beyond 2024, providing an opportunity for commercial companies; and support NASA’s commercial space systems to reduce U.S dependence on Russia for launching astronauts and cargo.
We focused our messages to strike a chord with each Representative or Senator’s district and constituents by showing how NASA’s human exploration programs benefit specific industries tied to their voters. Of course, as in most cases, we did not have to try too hard to get people excited when talking about NASA and space exploration.
In my own group of CSE participants, we had a student from Stanford University studying to obtain a B.S. in electrical engineering with a minor in aerospace engineering. As a freshman, she worked her way into lead avionics engineer and team lead of designing and building a satellite for the Stanford Space Initiative. She is currently finishing her sophomore year, and in September, her satellite will be launched by SpaceX. It is an impressive achievement at such a young age, and it made the legislators we met with take notice, especially since she was from Indianapolis, and the majority of meetings our team had were with members from Indiana.
This year’s CSE team consisted of 97 travelers. We participated in two days of meetings and were able to accomplish nearly 400 meetings with Congress and their staffers. We were assured by many that they had not seen this much support for NASA and human space exploration by the federal government in a long time, if ever during their careers.
The CSE trip was a valuable experience for me because it showed that our government is accessible. We had a Senator who was busy in meetings, so we planned on meeting with his staffers. However, when he heard about our student’s achievements as one of his own, he rushed back to the office to meet with us. The same thing happened with one of the Representatives we met with. We also were fortunate enough to participate in a weekly Coffee with Constituents with another Senator who had groups of citizen advocates to stop in his office for coffee and discussions.
The trip was also valuable because it gave me a first-hand look at the inner workings of our federal government. It also taught me that talking to a staffer is just as valuable, if not more valuable, than talking to the actual member of Congress because the staffers advise the members on voting.
And of course, it was my first time to Washington D.C., so I was able to spend some time site seeing and exploring some of the wealth of history and culture the city offers. I visited the Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Spy Museum, the Museum of the Bible, and saw the Capitol Building, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Washington Monument, and all of the memorials around the National Mall. I highly recommend visiting if you have never been. Just wear comfy shoes.
-The Logical Blogger