Harris Will Chair National Space Council, Swear in Bill Nelson on Monday

Harris Will Chair National Space Council, Swear in Bill Nelson on Monday

Senior administration officials confirmed this morning that Vice President Kamala Harris will chair the National Space Council. The search for an Executive Secretary is underway. The Council will have a lot of continuity with its predecessor, but Harris will put her own stamp on it. She will also keep a Users’ Advisory Group. They also said that Harris will swear in Bill Nelson as NASA’s new Administrator on Monday.

Vice President Kamala Harris

The National Space Council was created in the 1989 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 100-685), which directs that it be chaired by the Vice President.

Presidents can choose whether to fund or staff it, however. Only two, George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump, chose to do so until now.  President Biden is the third.

The officials said there would be continuity under Harris’ leadership, but she also has her own priorities, starting with sustainable development of commercial space activity, advancing peaceful norms and responsible behaviors in space, peaceful exploration with allies and partners, climate change, STEM, workforce diversity, regional economic development, and enhancing cybersecurity in space systems.

For now at least, the Space Council will operate under the terms of the Executive Order issued by President Trump, which sets the membership of the Council. It was updated in February 2020.

Harris later tweeted that she is “honored” to chair the Space Council.

Harris will also keep a User’s Advisory Group (UAG) of outside advisors to the Space Council, but nothing was said about who would be on it. The Trump Administration’s UAG had 28 members, mostly political allies and representatives of companies that build and launch satellites rather than users of products from those satellites.

The UAG also was created by law, the FY1991 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 101-611). The UAG’s function is to “ensure that the interests of industries and other non-Federal entities involved in space activities, including in particular commercial entities, are adequately represented in the National Space Council.”

No date has been set for the first meeting of the Council or the UAG.

Bill Nelson was confirmed by the Senate to be NASA Administrator on Thursday. Harris has been officially swearing in all of the Biden Senate-confirmed officials and she will do that for Nelson on Monday.

Incoming NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

Nelson issued his own statement this afternoon.

“The Vice President is the perfect person to lead the federal government’s space policy, which is increasingly complex, with many nations in space.

“Vice President Lyndon Johnson was the first chair of the National Space Council when America initially ventured beyond Earth. Now, Vice President Harris will coordinate our nation’s efforts to ensure America continues to lead in space. It is an exciting time for our space program.”

The National Space Council replaces an earlier iteration, the National Aeronautics and Space Council, that was established in the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act but abolished by President Nixon in 1973.  Johnson chaired the National Aeronautics and Space Council when he was Vice President under John F. Kennedy.

The Space Council was very active in the Trump Administration. During his four years, Trump signed an updated National Space Policy, seven Space Policy Directives (SPDs), three space-related Executive Orders, two strategies and one report.

This article has been updated.

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