Yesterday, Vice President Kamala Harris chaired a second meeting of the White House National Space Council. As in the first meeting, STEM education was one of the three main topics. The other two were NASA’s manned spaceflight program and the creation of regulations for new commercial space activities. No major decisions were announced, but a White House Framework for STEM Education and Space Workforce Development was released and several tasks were assigned to Council members.
Held at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home of NASA’s Astronaut Corps and International Space Station Mission Control, Harris spoke first with the three American astronauts aboard the ISS: Kjell Lindgren , Jessica Watkins and Bob Hines. Harris has a strong interest in climate change and most of the conversation has revolved around how seeing Earth from space changes one’s perspective. They also discussed the role of the ISS as a microgravity research laboratory.
The conversation ended abruptly when the ISS passed out of range. The vice president had arrived at mission control several minutes late according to the schedule published by her office.
The Space Council meeting later in the day reviewed actions taken since the December meeting. STEM education, climate change, including NASA’s role in Earth science research, and setting international standards for behavior in space were the topics then.
Yesterday Harris again hailed the Artemis Accords as an example of standards of behavior that have been signed by 21 nations to date. Assistant Secretary of State Monica Medina announced that the United States, France and Brazil will host a meeting of these signatories in conjunction with the International Astronautical Congress in Paris later this month.
Harris also said the United States would introduce a resolution to the United Nations General Assembly later this month calling on other countries to join the US pledge not to conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite tests. . She made the pledge on behalf of the United States in April following Russia’s November 2021 ASAT test that created thousands of pieces of debris. So far, Canada and New Zealand are the only countries to agree.
Yesterday, STEM education was again on the agenda and the subject of the first panel. The theme was building the aerospace workforce of the future and featured Pablo Banda, a high school teacher from Milby High School in Houston, Harold Martin, Chancellor of North Carolina A&T State University, and Healther Volk, CEO of Special Aerospace Services. The White House released a fact sheet on “Commitments to Inspire, Prepare and Employ the Space Workforce” and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a Interagency roadmap to support space-related STEM education and workforce.
Harris suggests three STEM-related tasks for Board members:
- the Ministry of Education must create a plan within 90 days to set up a new STEM office in the ministry;
- The OSTP must list and align all space-related investments and partnerships between the federal government and colleges and universities within 120 days; and
- NASA, DOD and the Department of Commerce must recommend a plan within 180 days to ensure the space program is included in federal programs like Made in USA.
The second panel, on manned spaceflight, focused on the ISS and what’s next. Harris praised the ISS, particularly the biomedical research taking place there, and reiterated the United States’ commitment to extending operations through 2030 while acknowledging that it won’t last forever. . Dr. Arun Sharma of Cedars-Sinai spoke to the Council about the stem cell research he conducts on the ISS, while Karina Drees, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, endorsed NASA’s partnership with the industry private sector to build future commercial space stations. Drees stressed that it is “critical to avoid a gap” between the ISS and commercial space stations, or commercial LEO destinations (CLDs) as NASA calls them, in order to “counter the influence and growing Chinese capabilities in the space arena”. ”
Harris promised that the administration is committed to ensuring that NASA can continue to conduct scientific research in low Earth orbit.
And as we’ll discuss more today, our administration remains committed to ensuring that NASA retains the ability to conduct cutting-edge research in space…
She also got excited about the Artemis lunar program. She was at Kennedy Space Center on August 29 for the attempted launch of the Artemis I test flight around the Moon, although the launch was canceled. She is undeterred and speaks enthusiastically of the landing of the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon. (The launch was canceled again on September 3. NASA is targeting September 23 or 27 for the next attempt.)
Harris assigned three tasks to Council members regarding manned spaceflight:
- NASA to develop plan for new National Microgravity Laboratory as part of transition from ISS to commercial space stations;
- NASA must finalize a plan for an initial lunar surface architecture within 150 days, taking into account commercial and international partnerships; and
- the Department of Transportation (DOT) is to identify interim measures within the next year to utilize existing authorities to ensure human safety in spaceflight.
The DOT regulates commercial manned flight through the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. By law, companies carrying private passengers into space are only required to obtain “informed consent” from the customer, and the FAA does not have the right to promulgate additional regulations for a period of time. This period has been extended several times and currently expires next year.
The third panel focused on the issue of creating a clear, consistent and flexible regulatory regime for new commercial space activities, as summarized in a separate SpacePolicyOnline.com article. Harris’ task to the Council in this regard is for all Council members to submit to him a proposal to authorize and oversee new commercial space activities within 180 days.
At the end, Harris announced that General Lester Lyles (ret.) is the new chair of the Space Council’s User Advisory Group, succeeding Admiral Jim Ellis (ret.). The other members of the UAG will be announced later.
The quick two-hour meeting left no time for unscripted conversations. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, General James Dickinson, Commander of US Space Command, and Alondra Nelson, Acting Director of OSTP were there, but most Council members sent deputies or other alternates. .
The Office of the Vice-President did not provide a list of participants, but according to the introductions it made, the following were among the Council members or their representatives present (roughly in speaking order ):
- Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator
- Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Interior
- Jewel Bronaugh, Assistant Secretary, Department of Agriculture
- Don Graves, Assistant Secretary, Department of Commerce
- Monica Medina, Assistant Secretary, Department of State
- Nani Coloretti, Deputy Director, Office of Management and Budget
- Alondra Nelson, Acting Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy
- Cindy Martin, Undersecretary, Department of Education
- Heidi Shyu, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Ministry of Defense
- Chike Aguh, Director of Innovation, Ministry of Labor
- Polly Trottenberg, Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Transport
- Stacey Dixon, Deputy Director, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
- General James Dickinson, Commander of US Space Command
- John Tien, Assistant Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
Jessica Rosenworcel, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, was also a participant.