Vice President Pence leads first National Space Council meeting, outlines Moon as priority
The newly re-established National Space Council had its first meeting on October 5, 2017, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, the group heard testimony from experts across all sectors of the space industry in an effort to refocus U.S. space policy.
The body was originally established in 1989 during the George H.W. Bush administration; however, it was disbanded in 1993. In June, President Donald Trump signed an executive order re-establishing the council. Both are a modified version of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, which operated from 1958 to 1973.
The October 5 meeting, titled Leading the Next Frontier: An Event with the National Space Council, sought to hear from leaders in civil space, commercial space, and national security space with a goal of refocusing the U.S. space program.
“For too long our government’s commitment has failed to match our people’s spirit and meet our nation’s needs,” Pence said. “The truth is that America entered this new millennium without a coherent policy, a coherent vision for outer space. In the absence of American leadership, other nations have seized the opportunity to stake their claim in the infinite frontiers. Rather than lead in space, too often we’ve chosen to drift.”
Pence said that one of the goals of the National Space Council is to lay the foundations to maintain a constant commercial human presence in low-Earth orbit while NASA expands into deep space.
“We will return American astronauts to the Moon,” Pence said, “not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but [also] to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond.”
The Moon will be a stepping stone, Pence said, a training ground and venue to strengthen U.S. commercial and international partnerships as the space program is refocused toward human space exploration.
“Every passing year that the Moon remains squarely in the rear-view mirror further eroded our ability to return to the lunar domain and made it more likely that we’d forget why we ever wanted to go in the first place,” Pence said. “Now we find ourselves in a position where the United States has not sent an American astronaut beyond low-Earth orbit in 45 years.”
He said that across the board the space program has suffered from apathy and neglect.
“President Trump has charged this National Space Council with reviewing America’s current policy and our long-range goals and coordinating all national space activities from security to commerce to exploration.”
Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said that the vice president’s call for renewed U.S. leadership in space involved directing NASA to develop a plan for a program of exploration with commercial and international partners.
“The recommendation to the president would modify the existing National Space Policy to provide focus and direction to some of NASA’s current activities and plans, and remove a previous guideline that NASA should undertake a human mission to an asteroid as the next human spaceflight milestone beyond low-Earth orbit,” Lightfoot said in a NASA statement. “The National Space Council acknowledged the strategic importance of cislunar space – the region around the Moon – which will serve as a proving ground for missions to Mars and beyond and advance our stepping stone approach to going farther into the Solar System.”
Lightfoot said that NASA has highlighted a number of initiatives currently underway involving cislunar space, including the study of building a deep space gateway in lunar orbit that could support a sustained cadence of robotic and human missions to the lunar surface, Mars, and other destinations.
“The direction builds on the hard work we have already been doing on the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, our efforts to enable our commercial partners and work with our international partners in low-Earth orbit at the International Space Station, and what we have been learning from our current robotic presence [on] the Moon and Mars,” Lightfoot said. “It adds further definition to the exploration plan we have been implementing, and strengthens and provides a context for studies and planning efforts underway across our human spaceflight, science and technology directorates.”
Mary Dittmar, president and CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration also issued a statement of support for the direction the National Space Council wants to take the U.S. space program.
“[W]e eagerly anticipate the day Americans once again return to deep space on American vehicles,” Dittmar said. “We look forward to supporting lunar missions and missions to the area of space around the Moon even as we prepare for Mars, and [we] anticipate working closely with the Administration and with Congress to advance national leadership in human space exploration, science, and commerce in deep space. We welcome the opportunity to explore synergies between our interests and those of the broader space community.”
Video courtesy of NASA
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.