In a speech to the graduating class of astronauts and NASA, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the National Space Council would be re-formed by the Trump administration, and that he himself would serve as chair. The self-described “lifelong NASA fan” said he was especially privileged to de delivering the speech on his birthday. While in Congress, Pence requested to serve on the subcommittee that oversees the U.S. space program, and used to regularly attend space shuttle launches with his family.
“I said at the time, that to see the sights and sounds of a launch at Cape Canaveral was like seeing the Earth giving birth to a piece of the sun and sending it home,” he told the assembled crowd. “Americans marvel at these new astronauts – and those who’ve gone before.”
Pence expressed his enthusiasm for the National Space Council, and said the civilian program needed to “re-orient itself toward deep space exploration, in addition to maintaining a “constant presence in lower earth orbit.”
“The first Space Council helped marshal America’s energies and skills during the infancy of our nation’s attempts to reach the stars. And it was under the Council’s watch that America put a man in outer space and put a man on the moon with less than a decade between them,” he said. “Our National Space Council will reenergize the pioneering spirit of America – and it will ensure that America never again loses our lead in space exploration and technology.
The speech was well-received by many in the industry. Pence is well known as a space enthusiast, and many speakers at the International Space Development Conference, held in St. Louis in May, expressed hope that the Trump administration would be good for American space exploration. Several suggested the draft authorization for the NSC has already made its way the President’s desk, and several others mentioned Pence’s admiration for the space program as cause for optimism.
Dennis Wingo, founder and CEO of Skycorp, a space technology design firm and consultancy, said he found the tone of the address “very favorable to NASA.”
“Additionally of course was his announcement of the reformation of the National Space Council and that he was going to be the chair of it,” wrote Wingo in an e-mail. “One wonders what would have happened had Spiro Agnew, the last vice president who voiced this level of support for NASA, had not been forced from office.”
Wingo added that “informed sources” had told him that a re-formed National Space Council will look at the big picture of space, identifying the national goal for the space program and building strategies to encourage intra-agency cooperation toward that goal.
Wingo added that a forward-looking National Space Council could help the industry align itself with the broader national interest.
“It is exceptionally important to understand that now, in the seventh year of the second decade of the 21st century, that space policy is not somehow an appendage, or separated from our larger national policy. Space is the black swan in the positive sense, that has the capacity to overcome 40 years of policies based on the fear of the future: the fear of nuclear power, the fear of population explosion and pollution, the fear of climate change, as well,” said Wingo. “Space can turn our policy from one of fear to one of faith in a positive future, that can most certainly be brought to pass by the economic development of the solar system.”
With the administration embroiled in scandal since Trump took office, it remains to be seen how effective the president and his men could be at ushering NASA into a new era, but their interest in American spaceflight has encouraged many of those who live and breath space. The NSC authorization has yet to be signed, but industry-wide chatter suggests it’s not far off; several sources familiar with the president’s transition team intimated it could happen any day.
Few among thousands
Over 18,300 men and women applied to be astronauts in the U.S.’s NASA space program. Twelve of them made the cut.Both numbers are respectively significant; that was the largest pool of recruit applications in decades, and the most selected from that pool since 2000, according to NASA. Since the inception of the program, only 350 Americans have ever held the job.
With constant conflict dominating the media narrative, it is worth pointing out that Americans are working, researching, and living in space every day; indeed, it’s perhaps easier for them to focus away from all the noise. Beyond politics and beyond even policy, a process that selects 12 men and women out of a pool of nearly 20,000 suggests that the space program is still able to identify and recruit our very best and brightest.
“These women and men deserve our enthusiastic congratulations,” said Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa, herself an astronaut, to the crowds gathered at the commencement. “Children all across the United States right now dream of being in their shoes someday. We here at NASA are excited to welcome them to the team and look forward to working with them to inspire the next generation of explorers.”
Congratulations to the latest class of astronauts; we’re all watching with bated breath for the discoveries and destinations you’ll soon be sharing with us.