In a much-anticipated signing ceremony, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on 30 June reauthorizing the National Space Council, an advisory body that, though a driving force behind many of that country’s most significant forays in space exploration, has been defunct for 24 years.
The council will work closely with several federal agencies to foster cooperation “in order to provide a coordinated process for developing and monitoring the implementation of national space policy and strategy,” according to the order. While the last National Space Council, implemented by former President George H.W. Bush, also included a civilian Advisory Board, the wording of Trump’s order suggests a greater emphasis on commercial space development, prescribing a User’s Advisory Board comprising “non-Federal representatives of industries and other persons involved in aeronautical and space activities,” a move that will doubtless be welcomed by many in the burgeoning commercial space industry.
Trump acknowledged the commercial industry in a brief speech in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, attended by Vice President Mike Pence, veteran astronaut, Col. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and several other NASA astronauts and administrators.
“We’ve got tremendous spirit from the private sector, maybe in particular the private sector,” he said.
The executive order, as in the past, appoints the vice president chairman of the council. Trump acknowledged the vice president’s campaign promise to revive the council, saying, “Because Mike’s very much into space; our vice president cares very deeply about space policy.”
The NSC, formed under President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958, but became more significant when President John F. Kennedy requested his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, become its chair. It languished until President George H.W. Bush signed Executive Order 12675 in 1989, but was disbanded in 1993. While President Barack Obama said he would revive it when during the campaign for the 2008 election, that did not materialize.
“We’re going to lead again…it’s been a long time, over 25 years,” said Trump. “And we’re opening up and we’re going to lead like never before…We’re a nation of pioneers, and the next great American frontier is space.”
He further alluded to the likely make-up of the advisory group, and while the names have not yet been announced, it seems probable that at least some of the board may be well-known figures in the commercial space community.
“We’re going to pick some private people to be on the board,” he said, presumably referring to the private sector. “Some of the most successful people in the world want to be on this board.”
Pence has expressed enthusiasm for his role on the council. He’s long expressed an interest in space, attending shuttle launches with his family while still a congressman, and requesting to be put on the congressional committee that oversees NASA. He gave a speech of his own on 12 June that affirmed the administration’s support for NASA at the commencement ceremony for the recent graduating class of astronauts. And, after Trump’s speech, he reaffirmed his appreciation for his role on the council via Twitter.
— Vice President Pence (@VP) June 30, 2017
Dennis Wingo, founder and CEO of Skycorp, did an interview with The Downlink shortly after Pence’s speech, and said then that he had confidence in the vice- resident’s commitment to the program.
“One thing is for sure is that Pence is going to put the power of his office behind it. I have heard from some informed sources that a reformed National Space Council will look at the big picture of space — as in what is our national goal? — and then how to get the various agencies with stakes in the game to work together toward that goal.”
He noted at that time that the board’s agenda, and success getting it implemented, could have a lot to do with who all was appointed to it.
“It is exceptionally dependent upon who the members are, but…it is the expectation that they will set the overall policy goals to be achieved, and then work to coordinate the various agencies toward that goal,” he said.