Today, Vice President Mike Pence will host the first meeting of the newly resurrected National Space Council — a group of prominent politicians tasked with guiding the US agenda for space. As the head of the council, Pence will hear testimony from various experts in the space community on topics ranging from national security to commercial enterprises.
The National Space Council is meant to help decide what the US should focus on for space policy, though it can’t pass laws or change budgets. The very first iteration of the council existed from 1958 through 1973, when it was abolished by President Richard Nixon. It was then briefly resurrected in 1989 during the George H.W. Bush administration, but eventually disbanded again in 1993. In June, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reestablishing the National Space Council, with Pence as the chair. (The council has typically been led by the vice president.) So today will be the council’s first meeting in over 20 years.
A full list of the council's members can be found below:
It’s unclear exactly what will be accomplished with the meeting, which has been titled “Leading the Next Frontier: An Event with the National Space Council.” But there are some hints about what will be discussed based on three scheduled panels, which include the CEOs from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Orbital ATK, as well as representatives from newer aerospace companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Sierra Nevada. One panel will focus on space’s role in national security, with former NASA administrator Mike Griffin and other security experts.
It seems that a big topic of discussion will be human spaceflight, since Boeing and Lockheed Martin are working on both the Space Launch System and Orion for NASA — a rocket and spaceship combo that is supposed to take astronauts into deep space. And another focus will likely be NASA’s private partnerships with commercial space companies like SpaceX. Absent from this discussion are experts on planetary science, technology, and Earth science.
A primary focus will probably be the Moon, as well. Yesterday, Pence penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “America Will Return to the Moon—and Go Beyond,” in which he said the US space program will establish “a renewed American presence on the Moon, a vital strategic goal.” It’s a move that would be a big change for NASA, which was squarely focused on going to Mars without a Moon return during the Obama administration. Pence wrote that once we create a foundation on the Moon, then NASA will go beyond to Mars. How all of this will materialize after the meeting remains to be seen, since Congress is ultimately the one that determines NASA’s budget.
The meeting gets underway at 10AM ET at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The 2.5-hour session will be live-streamed by both the White House and NASA.