The International Space Station could be retired within the next decade, but a space-exploration advocacy group applauded a recent suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that there should be an abiding orbital outpost of some sort.
The National Space Society on July 10 noted Pence’s recent call to maintain a “constant presence” in low-Earth orbit, a scenario boding benefits for commercial spaceflight companies currently serving as NASA contactors on ISS missions. SpaceX and United Launch Alliance do ISS cargo shuttles, and SpaceX and Boeing hold contracts to begin astronaut shuttles at some point.
Pence, above left, made his remarks July 6 during a visit to Kennedy Space Center. The trip followed President Trump’s signing of an executive order June 30 making Pence the head of the National Space Council. The council — whose members also include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and some other administration officials — was created in 1989 by then-President George H. W. Bush but was disbanded in 1993.
The National Space Society said it “looks forward to (Pence) leading the council toward a bold future in space that is not just exciting but that delivers the benefits of space resources to all Americans.”
At the Kennedy Center, Pence said: “We will maintain a constant presence in low-Earth orbit, and we will develop policies that will carry human space exploration across our solar system and ultimately into the vast expanse of space.” Pence continued, “As the president has said, space is in his words the ‘next great American frontier.’ And like the pioneers that came before us, we will settle that frontier with American leadership, American courage, and American ingenuity.”
The multinational ISS, often called an orbiting space lab, was launched in 1998. Key participants including the U.S. and Russia have pledged to support the space station at least through 2024.
The National Space Society said the U.S. space program should continue to participate in some sort of low-Earth orbit station in the future.
“NSS strongly supports a gapless transition from the current International Space Station to future commercial LEO space stations,” said Dale Skran, NSS executive vice president. “We are encouraged to see the vice president endorse a ‘constant’ human presence in low-Earth orbit. NSS works diligently to support the development and settlement of space, and this may be the first time that this goal has been endorsed in a public speech by a vice president.”