How to Lobby Congress and Campaigns for the Moon and Mars

Promoting the Space Program to Decision Makers:

In this and any election year, there’s two valuable actions you can take to build support in Congress and the White House for America’s future in space, including returning to the moon in 2024 and landing on Mars by 2033: Promoting the space program to candidates and grassroots Congressional lobbying. Watch this detailed presentation or read the details below.

 

TALK TO CANDIDATES AND CAMPAIGNS:

The first is to take advantage of the easy access to candidates and incumbents for Congress and President during the campaign season.

Ignore politics and let’s use this year to engage all the candidates to out-compete each other in their support for a bold space program. See, if we can get each candidate to promise greater a space program than the others, then we will be in a race to the top, not a race to the bottom, as seen in 2012, where candidates attacked the only pro-space candidate in the race for proposing a bold new space program.

Presidential candidates are traveling the country and speaking at events—some large and some small. The small events can be an excellent opportunity to actually talk to the candidates and their senior advisors.

At a huge event, you won’t meet the candidate or staff unless you know someone, but you can make them know you are there in a friendly and positive way. One way is to wear your pro-space shirts and caps. Maybe you’ll want to bring a sign or banner with “Moon by 2024” or Mars 2033!” on it, though many large events will have security rules forbidding banners and sign poles.

You can hold up signs on public property outside the campaign event with signs asking the candidate to support plans for the Moon and Mars. That may be photographed by the media and eventually reach the candidate.

Note that protesting in any way will just get you ousted and will result in the opposite effect from what you want.

For House and Senate campaigns, go to campaign events for both parties and you’ll have a good chance to talk to the incumbents and new candidates as well as their senior staff about your space priorities.

Call, email and message all presidential and congressional candidates in support of Moon 2024 and Mars 2033. Visit their local campaign headquarters and talk to their staff. Ask for the candidate’s statements and positions on the space program and commercial space. If they don’t have one, suggest they create a statement—or even offer to write one.

Every campaign extensively uses social media. The candidate might not read it or personally send messages, but staff will certainly relay your message if it sounds useful and is constructive, or at least a summary of it if many people send similar messages. You can also retweet useful information to candidates, and thank them and share any pro-space messages they post.

Then get all your friends and contacts to do the same.

Everything seems political today, but space must not be so if we are to realize our dreams. Both Democratic and Republican presidents and Congresses have all inspired and funded our greatest space accomplishments, from JFK’s “we will go to the Moon in this decade” to building the space shuttles and the International Space Station, and now Artemis to the Moon and Mars.

Together we will reach the Moon and Mars. Together we will build colonies. Together we will build an interstellar spacecraft – and one day humanity will reach the stars. But not if we squabble and refuse to be part of this or that way of getting there, or refuse to support a plan from the “other party” because it’s not exactly your plan or you don’t want any particular person to get the credit. Who cares once humans are on Mars, right?

Together, and only together can we reach the moon by 2024 and Mars in the 2030s.

CONGRESSIONAL LOBBYING--CITIZEN-STYLE:

This is a primer on how to meet or talk with your members of Congress and their top staff.

Why would you want to meet with your legislators? Perhaps to support specific legislation, goals or budgets. Or perhaps you want to judge or inspire their support for returning to the Moon and landing on Mars.

By following these tips, you can make your visits, calls and letters more effective, as well as the efforts of the advocacy organizations you support. What a Member of Congress or staff member is hoping or needs to hear from you might be very different from what you expect or think are the most vital points.
For example, early in the year is “appropriations season,” where you can request a greater budget for NASA than requested by the president, and you can present a letter in support of the same. That’s also the time to talk to the committee staff who write the NASA authorization bills about your priorities.

What is “authorization,” and what is “appropriation?” You’ll hear these terms. To over-simplify it, authorization bills specify what each agency can do, often in exacting detail. Appropriations bills specify how much money agencies can actually spend. Want more utilization of commercial space? Get that in the authorization bill. Want more money for NASA? Get that in the appropriations bill.

Firstly, don’t just call a congressional office and leave a message in support of “going to the Moon or Mars,” for example, with the receptionist—it doesn’t make a difference at all.

Congressional offices have interns and staff assistants who answer phones. But it’s the Legislative Assistants (“LAs” in Hill slang) plus the senior staff who actually write bills and recommend policies. Each LA is assigned a number of issues, and someone in the office will have 'science and space'--NASA in their portfolio. That person might be an expert on space policy, or might have little clue and will appreciate your advice.

That’s the person you want to talk to, the space LA. Ask for the staffer’s email and stay in touch.

If you call a member who is not in your state or district, expect the receptionist to ask if you live in the district or state, and just refer you to your own representatives. But if you start off by just asking for the name of the space LA, you’ll get it with few questions, and always ask for their email address too. Communicate your interests with that staffer.

By the way, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a response to an email. A typical staffer gets hundreds of emails a day, and yours could easily be lost in the flood. Just try again.

Preparing for a call or meeting with a Member or staff:

Do a bit of research: Find out how much in NASA contracts are in your state and Congressional district. NASA has a useful website listing their contracts in each state and district: https://prod.nais.nasa.gov/cgibin/npdv/map.cgi or just remember this shortcut: http://tinyurl.com/NASAContractMap.

This will give you an idea if a member has a lot of NASA and space industry in the district or state, and therefore a greater interest in space exploration.

Then Google your member’s name plus keywords like “NASA,” “SpaceX,” “Artemis,” “moon” and “Mars.” Those search terms may find Member statements indicating they are favorable to space exploration. You can also do the same search on Congress.gov to reveal cosponsorship of pro-space bills, amendments, etc.

Or you might find absolutely … Nothing. They never made a speech about space. Never cosponsored a space-related bill. Never attended a launch, or even put out a press release when an astronaut visited. Sadly, this isn’t rare.

Next, go to the official websites of your Representative and Senators and see what committees they are on. Science and Appropriations are valuable, as they set NASA’s goals and budget. But those members will already know a lot about the space program. With limited time, your time may be better spent on those members who have little NASA or commercial space in their district, and who have no Google results for their name plus NASA. Those offices need your help.

Now you will have an idea if the Member is pro-space or not, and if their district has NASA contracts, and you can tailor your questions and requests accordingly.

OK, what’s your goal in meeting? Make Artemis in 2024 happen on schedule? More money for NASA to make it all happen? Get language in the authorization bill to favor using Starship, or to plan precursor and crewed missions to Mars? Have your goal in mind from the start.
Perhaps you just want to engage the staffer to discern their interest, and that of their boss.

The next step is to call, email or set up a meeting.

Anytime you visit Washington, D.C., you’ll be welcome at the offices of your own legislators. The space staffer might not be there or available, but most times you’ll at least get a meeting with a junior staffer or intern who can write up the meeting for the boss. But if you call with enough notice in advance, you should be able to schedule a meeting with the space staffer.

Your best bet for meeting with your Senators and Representative in person is in your home state at their local offices. Call the local office to set up a meeting when the member is in the state.

Keep your meeting focused on one or a few issues. Be specific, not vague, with “asks”—that is, a specific request of what you are asking the member to do.

By the way, don’t provide hundreds of pages of printed documentation unless they ask. Give out a one-pager or a folder with a few sheets, and offer to email detailed documents. Unless they really want a long printed paper, it’s just going to end up in the trash because there's no time to read it. That’s the hectic life on Capitol Hill.

Group Advocacy Visits:

There’s power in numbers. I highly recommend that you join with one of the various annual space advocacy Congressional visits. Participants from across the country visit a great many offices over a couple days, and meet staff and even a few Members. 

Here’s three annual organized visits. There’s others too:
What if you aren’t in a “space state?” No NASA centers or SpaceX factories? No spaceports.
False! 

Your farmers use GPS and weather satellite data every day. You might need an MRI if your home-built rocket has a mishap. Your mother or grandmother may benefit from ISS research on bone and muscle loss. Your local high school and college probably have cubesat and robotics programs. Some small contractor is making some specialized component for a spacecraft. And a future astronaut and plenty of aspiring aerospace engineers go to their schools.  Yes, everyone is in a space state.

I make these points to staffers and representatives who see little value in the space program. There’s more than you think. But the eyes of a New York City member of Congress lit up when I mentioned the inspirational effects of the space program that drive students into STEM education and careers. You can make a difference!

Here’s a vital point: Ask for something they can actually do:

Suppose you support a bill in Congress that would help space startups. The wrong thing to do would be to call Congressional offices asking them to “vote for H.R. 1234, the space startup bill.” The truth is most bills never get out of committee, so they’ll never get a chance to vote for it. That's a wasted call.

Instead, call space LAs and ask them to read and COSPONSOR the bill. Email them a link to the bill on Congress.gov. Cosponsoring means to sign on as a supporter—the more, the better chance to get a vote in committee. There’s several thousand bills introduced every year, so few staffers or members might know about your particular bill.

Next, call members of the committee that the bill was assigned to, and ask them to request a hearing on the bill and a committee vote.

That’s useful! Only if it is approved by the committee can it get a floor vote.

Most space policy that succeeds comes from the space subcommittees in the House and Senate, and from the members of those subcommittees. So talk with those staffers; you may find they are very helpful—and they may offer insight on which Members should be contacted on particular bills or budget bills.

You’ll find not all space staffers are experts. They may be newly assigned to the issue and have no clue how to get connected, or even have little personal interest. When I talk with a space staffer, I ask if they are on the NASA and the science committee email lists. And I also invite them to join the "Space Advocates Congressional Staff Association"—a non-partisan group of space staffers I co-founded in 2013 to keep us connected.

Sadly, I’ve talked to too many space staffers who are NOT on the special email lists, and never got their boss to a NASA center or a launch. Why? In many offices, space is a minor issue, and the LA might have five committees to track including one vital to the district, or has little clue of the value of the assignment, or nobody told them to call the committee and NASA’s legislative affairs office and get on the lists. It’s so easy. But the work pace on the Hill is hectic, so it happens.

I ask if they and their boss have toured a NASA or commercial space center. Or gone to a rocket launch. Or had a photo-op with an astronaut. Or set up a video call from ISS to a school in their district. Give them ideas!

Lobbying from the 'outside:'

You should send news releases to your local media after meetings in Congress. You can write letters to the editor and op-eds of your local papers and news sites.

  • Call radio talk shows or be a guest expert on a show.
  • Organize others to support your legislative goals. 
  • Organize a coalition of space advocacy organizations and industry to support a bill or a set of goals. 
  • These actions are some of the things you can do to build greater public support—which makes politicians more likely to pay attention.
So what can Congress do to get us to the Moon and Mars?

“No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” That was the saying in the 1960s, and it's still true today, especially in today's era of toxic politics.

The most important elements are:

  • Pass the President's budget request, which is necessary to get Artemis on track for 2024.
  • Defeat the current House NASA authorization bill, H.R. 5666, that delays returning to the moon until 2028 (and with the loss of momentum, perhaps another decade), prohibits vital commercial space partnerships, prohibits building a permanent base on the moon, and prohibits learning how to mine the moon for 'insitu resources.' All these are essential to learning how to survive when we go to Mars in the 2030s.

Another reason to support Artemis is that China has essentially declared they will seize the water-ice craters on the lunar south pole. If we sit back another few years, we are inviting them to do so. After all, they are using military force to try to seize the international waters and sovereign territories in the South China Sea in violation of the Law of the Sea Treaty. China literally could deny commercial space and the free world from access to the only place on the Moon where humans can live, short of war. So Artemis can prevent a war.

NASA is still being cheated by Congress for sufficient funds to land on the Moon, which could force delays in Artemis. You can help with your lobbying.

We must also keep the space program a bipartisan issue. 

Your Turn:

I hope this brief introduction to how Washington works will be useful for you to take action. Feel free to contact the Coalition for more ideas on how you can participate in our political process.

Adapted from a speech by Coalition President Art Harman to the Mars Society’s International Convention.

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