Wednesday morning, US Vice President Kamala Harris led the inaugural meeting of the Biden administration’s National Space Council, where she and other political leaders set out their priorities for the future of civil, commercial, and military space activities. She is the first woman and first person of color to lead such a meeting, which is traditionally led by the Vice President. While Harris has a wealth of foreign policy experience, this is her first foray into space policy.
“As our space exploration takes us to the Moon, Mars, and the edge of our solar system, I think we also have a responsibility to look at our own planet,” Harris said at the meeting at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, DC, which was broadcast online. They were introduced by Senator and former astronaut Mark Kelly of Arizona, who said that “space exploration has an amazing ability to inspire future generations” while citing his inspiration from “Neil and Buzz.”
The National Space Council aims to coordinate policies and priorities across many government agencies that deal with everything from space observations to launches, communications, and security. Former President George H.W. Bush created the original council in 1989, which was chaired by Vice President Dan Quayle. The organization was then dissolved in 1993. Former President Donald Trump revived the board in 2017, then Vice President Mike Pence chaired it for a series of eight meetings. In March, President Biden’s national security advisers announced that the administration would revive the council.
The meeting brought together leaders from more than a dozen federal agencies and included advisors from the space industry and the military. In conjunction with the meeting, President Biden signed an executive order adding five new members to the council: the secretaries of education, labor, agriculture, and the interior, as well as a national climate advisor. These additions are intended to ensure that the benefits of US space activities are widely applied throughout society, Harris said.
Harris also announced the launch of the United States Space Priorities Framework, which outlines the goals of the Biden administration. He appears to maintain support for a number of policies from the previous administration: funding for the Moon Program, known as Artemis; Building the military branch of the Space Force. increasing competition with space competitors China and Russia; investing in science and technology education; Continuing support of non-binding bases or rules that would reduce congestion and junk in orbit; and facilitate the growth of the commercial space industry. The framework also identifies “space as a critical component of modern warfare” and calls for expanded development of Earth observation satellites that help work on climate change.
“Without clear standards for the responsible use of space, we take the real risk of threats to our national and global security,” Harris said. She referred to Russia’s test of anti-satellite missiles two weeks ago as an “irresponsible act”. It generated about 1,500 pieces of orbital debris, delaying astronauts aboard the International Space Station from undertaking their spacewalks on Tuesday. The debris field resulting from this test, and previous experiments by China, the United States and India, have shown that shipwrecks can remain in orbit and threaten spacecraft for years.