The newly reconstituted National Space Council held its first meeting on 4 October 2017 at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Fairfax, Virginia, where Vice President Mike Pence announced that the United States would be shifting its immediate priority objective for the space program to exploiting cislunar space (between the Earth and Moon), including a return to the Moon. Exact plans remain to be settled, but many experts are calling for the establishment of a permanent settlement on one of the Moon’s poles.
In his remarks, the vice president, who chairs the Space Council, also called for renewal of U.S. leadership in space, with NASA leading in the development of an innovative and sustainable program of exploration, in partnership with the private sector and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system, including eventually Mars.
Acting NASA Administrator Richard Lightfoot welcomed the announcement, noting that the shift in mission direction “builds on the hard work we have already been doing on the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, our efforts to enable our commercial partners and work with our international partners in low-Earth orbit at the International Space Station, and what we have been learning from our current robotic presence at the Moon and Mars.”
He added that it offers “further definition to the exploration plan we have been implementing, and strengthens and provides a context for studies and planning efforts underway across our human spaceflight, science and technology directorates.”
The shift in focus not only moves planning for a NASA-led Mars mission to the back-burner, but it also will revise a current space policy directive charging NASA to undertake a manned mission to an asteroid as the next human spaceflight milestone.
The Space Council meeting can be viewed online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FERa2oxWhQ