Execs from commercial spaceflight companies new and old talked up their visions for future U.S.-led missions at the first meeting of the National Space Council in 24 years.
The council was created in 1989 by then-President George H. W. Bush but was disbanded in 1993. In June, President Trump named Vice President Pence to head a resurrected incarnation of the council, with government members also including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and others.
Commercial spaceflight executives attending the new council’s first meeting Oct. 5 included Boeing chief Dennis Muilenburg, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson, Orbital topper David Thompson and Spacex president Gwynne Shotwell, as well as representatives for Aerojet Rocketdyne, Honeywell, Jacobs Engineering, Northrop Grumman, and United Launch Alliance.
Pence vowed that the NASA and its commercial contractors will undertake missions both to the Moon and Mars in the next several years.
“We will return American astronauts to the Moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” the vice president said.
He characterized a new lunar mission as a “stepping stone” toward a deep space mission to Mars. That’s a departure from the previous administration’s priorities, with President Barack Obama having suggested missions to Mars or orbiting asteroids should take precedence over a return to the Moon.
Mary Lynne Dittmar, CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, applauded the enthusiasm for ambitious space missions expressed at the reconvened space council’s first meeting.
“Our coalition includes large and small firms at the leading edge of U.S. manufacturing, aerospace engineering, new technology development, space science, and human space exploration,” Dittmar said. “We support not only NASA’s programs of record such as the Space Launch System, the Orion crew vehicle, the James Webb Space Telescope, the Juno mission, OSIRIS-Rex and the International Space Station, but also small business manufacturers in communities across the country. …”
“We were encouraged by … statements made by Vice President Pence today that U.S. leadership in space is a priority for this administration,” she added. “We eagerly anticipate the day Americans once again return to deep space on American vehicles.”
In a previous address — recently speaking to another spaceflight-advocacy group, the National Space Society — Pence went on record as backing a replacement of some sort for the International Space Station once it is retired. Boeing, Orbital ATK and SpaceX hold contracts for shuttling cargo and/or astronauts to the orbiting space laboratory.
In remarks to the National Space Council, SpaceX’s Shotwell said various regulations hamper optimum participation in space exploration missions by commercial spaceflight companies. But she was upbeat in speaking of U.S. space efforts generally.
“America is out-innovating the rest of the world in space launch,” Shotwell said.