The Trump administration is planning for the future of the space program by throwing it back to the ’90s.
Vice President Mike Pence said this week that President Trump will, “in very short order,” bring back a high-level advisory council on space activities that has been dead for nearly 25 years. The remarks were the first public confirmation by the White House that the administration wants to resurrect the National Space Council, an idea first floated by Trump’s policy advisers a month before he was elected. Pence teased the council at the end of a signing ceremony Tuesday in the Oval Office for the first NASA authorization bill in seven years, a piece of mostly symbolic legislation that lays out the space agency’s long-term directives, like going to Mars.
So, what exactly is a space council?
The National Space Council was last active for four years starting in 1989, during the administration of George H.W. Bush, and before that existed in some form or another starting in 1958, when NASA was created. The motivation for using the council, housed inside the office of the president, was always the same: People close to the president, in the administration or Congress, felt it necessary to establish some kind of centralized authority at the top of the chain to guide and govern policymaking in space matters. The nation’s space activities have always been spread across a host of federal agencies, such as NASA, the Defense Department, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and, as space exploration moves deeper into the private sector, the Commerce and Transportation departments. An interagency body, the thinking went, would help coordinate space efforts across the civilian, military, national security, and intelligence realms. A project manager to manage all the other project managers.