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Veep will put her ‘personal stamp’ on space policy

Vice President Kamala Harris’ role as the head of the National Space Council is prescribed by law, but that doesn’t mean she and her boss at the White House had to take it seriously.

The space council’s role as a forum for coordinating federal space policy goes back to the Eisenhower administration. But it languished in hibernation for a couple of decades until its revival by the Trump White House, with Vice President Mike Pence filling the statutory role of chairman. Under Pence’s leadership, the council conducted public hearings and drew up seven policy directives on matters ranging from moon exploration to nukes in space.

Today Harris confirmed in a tweet that she’ll keep the ball rolling during the Biden administration:

During a background briefing for reporters, senior administration officials said Harris won’t be a mere figurehead.

The vice president “intends to put her own personal stamp on the concept,” one official said. (The briefing was conducted under the condition that the senior officials would not be identified further.)

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Space Council highlights moon, Mars … and nukes

Vice President Mike Pence delivers opening remarks during the sixth meeting of the National Space Council at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. The space shuttle Discovery towers over him. (NASA Photo / Aubrey Gemignani)

The latest meeting of the National Space Council provided a forum to build support for NASA’s twin-focus plan to send astronauts to the Moon in preparation for trips to Mars – and for the idea of using nuclear-powered rockets to get there.

In contrast to some of the council’s past meetings, today’s session at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia produced no Space Policy Directives with capital letters. Instead, administration officials – led by Vice President Mike Pence – summarily approved a set of recommendations aimed at fostering cooperation with commercial ventures and international partners on NASA’s moon-to-Mars initiative.

Pence said the recommendations give NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine a 60-day timeline for “designation of an office and submission of a plan for sustainable lunar surface exploration and the development of crewed missions to Mars.”

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VP Pence sets 5-year deadline for moon landing

National Space Council meeting
Vice President Mike Pence addresses the audience attending a meeting of the National Space Council at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama with an American flag, space artifacts and rocket models in the background. (NASA via YouTube)

Vice President Mike Pence today called for American astronauts to return to the moon in five years, laying down a challenge comparable to the 1960s Space Race.

“We’re in a space race today, just as we were in the 1960s, and the stakes are even higher,” Pence declared at a meeting of the National Space Council at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., next to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

For an example, he pointed to China’s Chang’e-4 mission, which put a lander and a rover on the moon’s far side in January. He also noted that Russia has been charging NASA as much as $80 million per seat for rides to the International Space Station in the wake of the space shuttle fleet’s retirement in 2011.

“But it’s not just competition against our adversaries,” Pence said. “We’re also racing against our worst enemy: complacency.”

Pence, who chairs the National Space Council, acknowledged that the cost of an accelerated push back to the moon would be great, but said that “the costs of inaction are greater.” NASA would be given authority to meet the five-year goal “by any means necessary,” Pence promised.

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National Space Council boosts Space Force plan

National Space Council meeting
Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao flank Vice President Mike Pence during a meeting of the National Space Council at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. (C-SPAN Video)

The National Space Council today pushed forward recommendations to raise the profile of military space activities, at first through a combined U.S. Space Command and eventually through a separate Space Force.

Vice President Mike Pence, the council’s chairman, argued that more military resources will have to be directed toward space, in part due to challenges from China and Russia.

“Today, space is fundamentally different than it was a generation ago,” he said. “What was once desolate and uncontested is increasingly crowded and confrontational. And today, other nations are seeking to disrupt our space-based systems and undermine our economic and military might as never before.”

Pence highlighted potential ranging from threats from anti-satellite weapons and airborne laser systems to on-orbit satellite interference and hypersonic weapons.

At a forum presented by The Washington Post just before today’s council meeting, Pence underscored the Trump administration’s view that preserving U.S. assets in space “will require a military presence.”

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Trump directs Pentagon to create Space Force

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President Donald Trump speaks at a White House meeting of the National Space Council, with Vice President Mike Pence standing beside him and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao sitting in the background. (White House / NASA via YouTube)

President Donald Trump today directed the Department of Defense to create a Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military, alongside the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

“We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal,” Trump said at a White House meeting of the National Space Council. “It is going to be something so important.”

He called on Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to carry out the assignment — and Dunford, a member of the council, accepted the job on the spot.

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