Week 8: NASA, NSF, and the Hill

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Monday, August 1, 2016


Marissa Murray

I started off this week in the office, filling out an excel spreadsheet about Clinton/Kaine and Trump/Pence views on science policy for a potential article.  For the candidates who have actually been in the government, I looked in congress.gov for science-y bills that they sponsored or co-sponsored as well as speeches that they gave on the floor.  This is a great fact-finding tactic because most media is not exactly objective.  It's best to go straight to the source.  I also examined both of the party platforms for snippets on science.  There was not a whole lot there, but more than I had expected given the lack of discussion about science related topics from each campaign.  For Trump, on the other hand, his twitter actually serves as a decent primary source.  He loves using it - and has for a while now - to voice his views.  I can now understand why so many articles cite Trump's tweets, in fact, some even cite tweets from 2012.  That's a lot of tweets to sift through...

On Wednesday we toured NASA thanks to Dahlia and Maria.  We saw the (folded up) James Webb Space Telescope which was especially exciting given that we've heard so much about it from Dr. Mather.  I was in awe of the gigantic (level 10 clean!!) room that it was in.  There were probably 50 scientists and engineers dressed in white clean room suits, all working on different things at the time we saw it.  We also got to see the Hubble control room and learn about how they schedule the telescope and how exclusive its time is which was incredible.  We finished off our tour with some Captain Cookie ice cream sandwiches and a trip to the gift shop where I couldn't help but purchase a NASA hat.

Thursday I journeyed into Arlington to attend an advisory committee meeting of the Office of International Science and Engineering at NSF.  It was my first time at NSF and I really enjoyed walking around the building.  The committee discussed the NSF director's 10 big ideas and the international implications.  If you haven't checked the ideas out yet I highly recommend it, very inspiring.  I personally liked when they talked about how proposing these ideas was putting science "on the offensive" and comparative to NASA's decadal surveys.  Having these big, exciting goals is a way to excite both congress and regular people about science, in the same way that NASA's objective to get to Mars excites both congress and regular people. 

Tabitha and Demitri took the interns on a tour of the hill on Friday.  Our first stop was a briefing on planetary science.  The speaker touched on decadal surveys, budgets, NASA missions, and the importance of advocacy for science, and I really felt the depth of everything that I've learned this summer... I was familiar with pretty much everything he talked about!  After a tour of the capitol buildings and lunch, we got to sit down with Demitri's chief of staff on the democratic side of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.  This is a committee that I have become very familiar with over the course of the summer, as the majority of the science hearings that I attended for FYI were there.  I asked a question about whether he thinks science is bipartisan, and I did not get as positive an answer as I had hoped.  Having been a part of the science committee since the democrats were in the majority, he talked about the different roles the parties take when they are the majority versus the minority.  Now, in the minority, he said that it is less about crafting legislation, and more about trying to make sure the progress you made while in the majority doesn't go away, more of a "defensive" role.  I had never thought about it like that before. This again reinforced another theme of the summer for me, how important voting in all elections is.  It all makes a difference, not just the presidential election, which is something I think a lot of people don't necessarily realize but should.  Exercise your right to vote people!

Marissa Murray