Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the National Space Council as it handles a mix of existing and new space policy issues, White House officials said May 1. Credit: White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Updated 1:55 p.m. Eastern with Nelson statement.

WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris will put her “personal stamp” on the National Space Council as it takes on both existing and new priorities under the Biden administration.

Senior administration officials, speaking on background in a call with reporters May 1, confirmed that the administration will retain the National Space Council, an interagency body used to coordinate space policy across the federal government. The vice president chairs the council by statute.

The White House announced March 29 that the council, revived by the Trump administration in 2017 after a hiatus of almost a quarter-century, would continue under the new administration. At the time, though, they offered few details about how it would operate.

In the call, officials said they are in the process of hiring a new executive secretary who handles the day-to-day operations of the council. The hiring process is “well underway,” said one senior administration official, but didn’t estimate when that person would be hired.

Also unclear is when the first formal meeting of the council will take place. “The vice president will be engaging stakeholders, engaging members of that council, all along the way,” an official said. “And then when we think it is useful to have the first full meeting we’ll have the first full meeting.”

The council will be structured similarly to past administrations, and will also retain the Users’ Advisory Group created by the Trump administration to advise the council as it works on a range of policy issues.

“There have always been certain core priorities, I think, we share with the previous administrations that have had a National Space Council,” an official said. “That’s maintaining our leadership in civil, commercial and national security space, and using it to develop our basic science and technological advantage and national security”

Officials said Harris will shape what issues the council addresses. “The vice president also intends to put her own personal stamp on the council,” an official said, citing as examples climate change, cybersecurity and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Other topics the council will address, as outlined in the call, including sustainable development of commercial space activities, advancing norms and behaviors for peaceful space activities, and international cooperation in space exploration.

“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,” an official said.

White House officials didn’t say if the council would support the development of space policy directives, like those issued during the Trump administration. In February, the White House said the National Security Council would be responsible for “national security memorandums” that would replace space policy directives. That led to speculation at the time that the administration would not continue the National Space Council.

Officials used the call to emphasize that the White House in general, and the president and vice president specifically, had been active on space in the first 100 days of the administration. Those milestones range from formal endorsements of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program and of the U.S. Space Force to outreach events, such as calls Harris made to astronauts on the International Space Station.

The White House also announced on the call that Harris would swear in Bill Nelson as NASA administrator on May 3. The Senate confirmed Nelson’s nomination to lead the agency by unanimous consent April 29. An official said that there will be “some special things” taking place during that swearing in, but declined to elaborate.

“The vice president is the perfect person to lead the federal government’s space policy, which is increasingly complex, with many nations in space,” Nelson said in a May 1 NASA statement about Harris. “Vice President Harris will coordinate our nation’s efforts to ensure America continues to lead in space. It is an exciting time for our space program.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...