With the Space Shuttle Discovery forming a dramatic background right behind him, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence opened the first meeting of the reconstituted National Space Council at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia on October 5.
He had an equally dramatic message: “We will return NASA astronauts to the Moon — not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation, we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond.”
His message signals the Trump administration’s return to the vision of President George W. Bush of taking humans to the moon and establishing a permanent presence on the lunar surface. Under President Obama, NASA worked on plans to take humans to Mars.
Pence had already revealed in an op-ed published to The Wall Street Journal on October 4 that an executive order had been signed to restore the National Space Council, with him as its head.
This is clearly a change of direction for the space agency that has been focused on a mission to Mars since 2010. These plans didn’t include landing people on the moon. While NASA has been working on the Space Launch System and Orion to take astronauts into deep space and onto Mars, new kids on the block have been joining the game. And they were all present to stake their claim, so to speak, at this historical event where the world was told that America will take the lead in space once again.
Space industry leaders like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin have all made tremendous strides in developing new space technologies, building rockets, satellites and developing spaceships.
Late September SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed SpaceX’s revisions to a planned 42-engine rocket, nicknamed the BFR, during a presentation at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.
So NASA is no longer the only kid on the block. The space agency will have to work with these private space companies who have forged ahead in the quest to leverage space and its bounty.
The V.P. acknowledged this and said that fostering stronger partnerships between the federal government and industry will unite national interests and assure American leadership in space. Pence also stressed the importance of commercial companies maintaining a permanent presence in lower Earth orbit so that NASA could focus on deep-space missions.
Roughly twenty minutes were taken up by Pence’s opening remarks and thereafter the meeting proceeded with presentations by various space industry leaders including those from SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.
The event was as much a public media stunt to declare to the world that the United States is back in the space race as a first, preliminary meeting of a new council that must still solidify its formation and future collaborations.
Interesting times! Let’s wait and see what ensues.