White House says Vice President Kamala Harris will chair the Space Council

May 1, 2021 by No Comments

Enlarge / Vice President Kamala Harris called NASA astronaut Victor Glover on the International Space Station in February.

NASA

The National Space Council will continue operations under the Biden administration, and Vice President Kamala Harris will chair the organization.

Senior administration officials confirmed this on a call with reporters on Saturday and said the White House process to hire an executive secretary to manage the council is “well underway.”

The National Space Council oversees the three main areas of US space activities—national security, civil space, and commercial space. After it was dormant from 1993 to 2017, President Donald Trump reconstituted the body to advise his administration on space policy. Vice President Mike Pence chaired the council, and Scott Pace served as executive secretary.

The ongoing nature of the National Space Council represents another way in which the Biden administration has continued policies set forth by the Trump administration in space. Already, the Biden White House has said it will support the Space Force for national security, as well as NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the Moon.

However, officials stressed that Harris will “put her stamp” on the organization. “Let me flag a couple of things that I think she’ll put a particular focus on,” one official said, laying out the following priorities:

  • Sustainable development of commercial space
  • Advancing peaceful norms and responsible behaviors in space
  • Achieving peaceful exploration objectives with our allies and partners
  • Climate change
  • STEM education
  • Diversity in the workforce
  • Enhancing cybersecurity in space systems

Another contrast these officials sought to draw was that of a more workmanlike approach to Space Council meetings. At times during the Trump administration, it seemed like some of the purpose of these showy events across the country were staged to draw attention to activities, rather than furthering them, such as in naming a “cadre” of Artemis astronauts.

“I think her approach to this is just going to be to get the job done and use this to lead our space policy, and not really focus perhaps as much on big displays, but on getting the work done,” one official said.

All the same, it is to the credit of the Trump administration and Vice President Pence that they accomplished meaningful things in space policy, particularly getting NASA’s human spaceflight program on a more sustainable path to return humans to the Moon. And it is to the credit of the Biden administration that it recognized this work and will seek to improve upon it.

No date has yet been set for the first meeting of the National Space Council, but officials said Harris is already receiving frequent briefings on spaceflight activities and is engaged with key stakeholders. On Monday, for example, she will swear in former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) as NASA administrator.

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