At KSC, Pence, National Space Council discuss private exploration

By Greg Pallone and Jerry Hume, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Wednesday, February 21, 2018, 6:29 PM EST

The second National Space Council meeting led by Vice President Mike Pence wrapped up Wednesday afternoon at Kennedy Space Center.

The meeting was touted "Moon, Mars and Worlds Beyond: Winning the Next Frontier."

"Today, we stand at the dawn of a new era of American leadership in space," said Pence, the chairman of the newly reinstated council, dormant for nearly a quarter century.

He addressed the crowd gathered at KSC's Space Station Processing Facility, flanked by a panel including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot laid out objectives of the "Exploration Campaign" now mandated by the Trump administration. Its objectives are low Earth orbit, lunar orbit and the surface of the moon, then Mars and beyond.

"(To) transition the U.S. human spaceflight in low Earth orbit to commercial operations, which supports the needs of NASA and an emerging private sector market," Lightfoot told the panel.

The council is hoping to reform and streamline the launch licensing process, making it easier and faster for private companies to file and fly.

Also in attendance at the meeting Wednesday: the 29-member nonfederal advisory group from space and defense companies such as Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin and SpaceX, and Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon.

Pence also toured NASA and commercial company launch facilities during the Space Coast trip. He and second lady Karen Pence arrived on Air Force Two on Tuesday evening at the former shuttle landing facility.

"We go forward with the courage to dream bigger, determined to work harder, and let's carry that same confidence," Pence said.

A portion of the discussion focused on China, now thought as a true space power in rocket and satellite technology and that country's budding commercial space industry, which could pose military threats.

The White House re-established the National Space Council last year to create a cohesive national space policy that could be followed all federal agencies, including NASA and the Department of Defense.

Last week, the Trump administration called for a $19.9 billion budget for NASA for fiscal year 2019. In that budget request, the White House proposes to end direct federal funding for the International Space Station by 2025.