Once again the ASGSR students had a chance to visit DC for a political advocacy trip. While in DC, we attended a workshop entitled Congressional Operations 101, where the executive director of ASGSR gave an overview of how policy making occurs and how to effectively advocate to congressional staff. We learned the importance of both the appropriations and authorizations committees, and how to tailor your message and asks depending on which committee you are addressing. For this trip, our message was asking the appropriations committee to increase the funding for science grants on the space station from $19 million in 2018 to $125 million in 2019. This huge increase is justified because right now the space station is under-utilized, and the government has already invested massive sums of money into its construction and operation; and now just a little bit more investment will allow us to finally start using that investment. For the authorizations committee, we asked for legislation to include space research as a fundamental part of NASA’s budget.
We attended many meetings with political staff on capitol hill, including one meeting that was on the white house grounds. During these meetings, we provided student perspectives on why continued funding for research was so important. Some of the staff we met with were very well-versed on the issues of space and science funding, and others had no experience, so we had to tailor our message for each staffer. We learned about how the government works, including how the federal budget is set. The president submits a suggested budget, then individual congress people submit appropriations requests on behalf of lobbyists, constituents, or themselves. The appropriations committee goes through these requests and edits the president’s suggestions. Once this is done, the budget is presented to everyone and it is voted on.
The second part of the trip was attending the USA Science and Engineering Festival and volunteering there. The Festival was held at the DC convention center, and brought in thousands of people. We volunteered at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) booth. Student volunteers helped with their space virtual reality demonstration, where participants wear a virtual reality headset and use joysticks to fly through the International Space Station to find the cupula (the large window looking down at the Earth). The intended audience was children aged 12 to 18, though several adults also came to try the headset. The children were really excited by the demonstration. We also helped at the photo booth, where participants pose in front of a backdrop of the space station and were given free photos.