President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday to re-establish the National Space Council, reviving an entity that was formed during the 1960s race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to reach the moon first.
The council, to be led by Vice President Mike Pence, will be a forum to shape the Trump administration’s approach to space as private-sector companies including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin emerge as significant players.
“Space exploration is not only essential to our character as a nation but our economy and our great nation’s security,” Trump said Friday at a White House signing ceremony, adding, “I think privatization of certain aspects is going to play an important role.”
Though Trump hasn’t yet filled a vacancy for NASA administrator, the council could set a new direction for the space program, said Phil Larson, an assistant dean at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science and an Obama White House space policy official.
“If they develop a national space policy that grows opportunities in the commercial sector and extends more agile, entrepreneurial, and innovative space capabilities to the national security realm, taxpayers will benefit and our country could be safer as a result,” Larson said.
Vice President Lyndon Johnson was the first chairman of an earlier version of the space council when it was championed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The council’s influence waned and was revived in the 1980s before being ended during the Clinton administration.
Buzz Aldrin, the former Apollo 11 U.S. astronaut who along with mission commander Neil Armstrong became one of the first two people to walk on the moon in 1969, was at the White House for the signing ceremony.
As he signed the order, Trump summoned a signature line of the “Toy Story” movies’ character Buzz who was inspired by Aldrin: “To Infinity and Beyond.”