Pence cheers space business but offers no policy details

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since it was originally published to correct a quote by Vice President Mike Pence. The quote reads: “Our nation will return to the moon and we will put American boots on the face of Mars.”

Vice President Mike Pence hailed the growth of the private space sector business as key to his plans as chair of the newly re-established National Space Council on Thursday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and promised to convene the interagency body this summer.

“We will continue to make space travel safer, cheaper and more accessible than ever before, ” Pence said during his speech in the Vehicle Assembly Building, where NASA will assemble the Space Launch System rocket that it plans to send on missions to lunar orbit. “American business is on the cutting edge of space technology. ”

Pence said President Donald Trump is committed to NASA, citing his executive order June 30 that revived the space council to coordinate America’s space policy, but the vice president gave no new details on major goals for space exploration.

“Our nation will return to the moon and we will put American boots on the face of Mars,” Pence said.

He also alluded to uncertainty about what will happen after the retirement of the International Space Station, which the U.S. and partner nations have committed to maintain until at least 2024. Pence did not say what NASA’s next project will be, but said “we will maintain a constant presence in low Earth orbit.”

Pence also alluded to the U.S. Air Force’s plans to increase its focus on space operations when he said, “American security will be as dominant in the heavens as we are here on Earth.”

The vice president’s speech was his first as chairman of the space council, which Trump re-established for the first time since 1993, tasking it to develop a national space strategy and coordinate civilian, government and commercial space efforts. The council includes numerous Cabinet members and national security officials, and will appoint nonfederal representatives from the aerospace community and industry, including a chairman to be chosen by Pence.

“President Trump’s vision for space is much larger than NASA alone,” Pence said Thursday when emphasizing private space companies.

Two of the top figures of this new private space sector, SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, have previously met with Trump at the White House but were absent from the executive order signing on June 30. Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell were both present at Pence’s speech on Thursday.

The National Space Council has had varying success since it was created in 1958, and Pence noted the new council is the third iteration of the interagency body, which had been defunct since 1993.

“For nearly 25 years our government’s commitment seems to have not matched the spirit of the American people,” he said. “We will beat back any disadvantage that our lack of attention has placed and America will once again lead in space.”

Pence said the administration would encourage a new generation of aerospace professionals to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. However, the 2018 budget proposal published by the White House would cut funding for some programs within NASA and close its Office of Education, which offers science-related scholarships, internships and research projects for students.

Editor’s note: In the photo at top, Vice President Mike Pence gives his speech in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida before about 1,200 people, including NASA employees. Behind Pence are three capsules: a SpaceX Dragon that carried supplies to the International Space Station, NASA’s Orion that flew into space on a test flight and Boeing’s Starliner crew trainer spacecraft, according to the Associated Press. Photo credit: White House

Pence cheers space business but offers no policy details