Trump NSC signing
President Donald Trump, flanked by astronauts, members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence, signs an executive order June 30 re-establishing the National Space Council. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump signed a long-awaited executive order June 30 re-establishing the National Space Council.

At an event in the White House, flanked by several members of Congress and industry officials as well as Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Trump signed the executive order that re-establishes the council, last active at the end of the administration of President George H.W. Bush in 1993.

“Today’s announcement sends a clear signal to the world that we are restoring America’s proud legacy of leadership in space,” Trump said during the ten-minute signing ceremony. The White House did not broadcast the event live, and provided scant advance notice of the event, taking place shortly before the president left for the July 4 holiday weekend. The White House posted a transcript and video of the event later in the day.

“The National Space Council will be a central hub guiding space policy within the administration. And I will draw on it for advice and information and recommendations for action,” Trump added.

Trump had previously announced that Vice President Mike Pence would serve as the head of the space council once it is reestablished. Pence stated on several occasions, dating back to the signing of a NASA authorization bill in March, that the president would soon sign the order re-establishing the council, with Pence as chairman.

Pence also spoke at the signing ceremony prior to Trump’s arrival, reiterating past statements that the council will be key to ensuring American leadership in space. “With the action he takes today, President Trump will bring a renewed sense of purpose to America’s space policy that will benefit literally every facet of our national life,” Pence said.

Today, @POTUS Donald Trump will take one more step to ensure that America leads again in the final frontier of space.

— Vice President Pence (@VP) June 30, 2017

I’m honored and frankly enthusiastic about the role @POTUS has asked me to play in renewing our nation’s commitment to space.

— Vice President Pence (@VP) June 30, 2017

The text of the executive order indicates that the new National Space Council will be structured like its previous incarnation in the George H.W. Bush administration, led by the vice president with representatives from various cabinet agencies and NASA. The council will be responsible for reviewing space policy and providing recommendations to the president, as well as fostering “close coordination, cooperation, and technology and information exchange” among agencies and with the private sector.

The order establishes a “Users’ Advisory Group” that is similar to the “Space Policy Advisory Board” that the previous National Space Council had that provides outside advice to the council on space issues. One difference is an emphasis by the Users’ Advisory Board that “the interests of industries and other non-Federal entities involved in space activities, including in particular commercial entities, are adequately represented in the Council.”

Trump said there was strong interest from “business leaders” regarding participation on the advisory group. “Some of the most successful people in the world want to be on this board,” he said, without identifying anyone specific. Trump said that he, Pence and “a few others” will select the members of the group at a later, unspecified date.

“I am pleased that President Trump has signed an executive order reestablishing the National Space Council,” NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement. “The establishment of the council is another demonstration of the Trump Administration’s deep interest in our work, and a testament to the importance of space exploration to our economy, our nation, and the planet as a whole.”

Among those in attendance at the event was Sandy Magnus, the executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) who also served on the NASA transition team for the incoming Trump administration. “We appreciate the Trump Administration’s efforts to strengthen our nation’s space enterprise and view this as an opportunity to create an integrated strategic approach to U.S. space endeavors,” she said in an AIAA statement.

Another person at the event was Tory Bruno, president and chief executive of United Launch Alliance. “I was honored to be there. This is a very exciting announcement,” he tweeted shortly after the signing ceremony.

I was honored to be there. This is a very exciting announcement.

— Tory Bruno (@torybruno) June 30, 2017

“The re-institution of the National Space Council is another important step in solidifying our nation’s continued commitment to NASA’s deep space exploration program,” Mary Lynne Dittmar, president and chief executive of the Coalition for Space Exploration and another attendee of the event, said in a statement. Besides ULA, the coalition said Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK were at the event, as well as several companies that serve as suppliers.

The White House did not announce additional details about establishing the council, including naming an executive secretary who will handle the day-to-day operations of the council. A former executive secretary of the council, though, was optimistic about the new council.

“Vice President Pence is ready and able to lead an active and energetic Space Council team and agenda to ensure US space preeminence for decades to come, and do so faster and more efficiently than ever before,” said Mark Albrecht, who was executive secretary of the council from 1989 to 1992.

Albrecht predicted a full slate of activities for the council when it starts its work. “The agenda for a White House coordinating body on space policy will be substantial and urgent, from rationalizing space launch, to fully integrating new privatized and commercial space capabilities into all national space activities, to fielding new and dominant space deterrence and warfighting capabilities and doctrine,” he said.