Parikh: VP Harris Energized, Engaged in Space Issues

Parikh: VP Harris Energized, Engaged in Space Issues

Chirag Parikh, the newly appointed Executive Secretary of the White House National Space Council, said today that Vice President Kamala Harris is energized about the space program and they have had several meetings already about the issues the Space Council must tackle.

Chirag Parikh, Executive Secretary, White House National Space Council, speaking at the Space Symposium, Colorado Springs, CO, August 25, 2021. Screengrab.

Parikh spoke at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, CO, thanking the Space Foundation for squeezing him at the last moment. He was appointed just three weeks ago.

A veteran Executive Branch professional who was President Obama’s Director of Space Policy on the National Security Council, he then moved to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) before leaving government to work for Microsoft’s Azure Space in January 2020. Now he is returning to government service in this new role.

By law, the Vice President chairs the National Space Council. Harris has chit-chatted with astronauts aboard the International Space Station a few times since taking office and swore in NASA Administrator Bill Nelson (as she did other Biden appointees), but otherwise appears focused on her other responsibilities like immigration and voting rights.

Right now, she is in South East Asia on a diplomatic trip, but Parikh said space was part of the discussion when she met the Prime Minister of Singapore.

This administration is taking space very seriously and I hope the fact that I’m here, the fact that a National Space Council exists, is a first demonstration of that commitment to the space community. Vice President Harris actually is very energized by her role. We’ve had several meetings with her already, and she is actively engaged asking all the right questions and the hard questions and meeting with senior leaders across the government and from around the world….

…On Monday, the Vice President was in Singapore, talking with the Prime Minister of Singapore, and they agreed that space cooperation, civil space cooperation, was important for our nations. And so we’ll be setting up a dialogue with the Government of Singapore here shortly, so she’s taking a very active role, very quickly….

Harris’s space priorities include not only traditional areas like national security, ensuring a competitive space sector, leading space exploration, advancing norms of behavior, and international cooperation, he said, but “space-enabled” sectors like the value of space in combating climate change, STEM education, and economic development.

Conveying the value of space to the public is an area they plan to focus on.

The way we must be communicating about space is not space for the sake of space, but space for the value of that citizen. What is the value of an Earth observation sensing? What is the value of space traffic management?  What’s the value of space exploration? You need to be able to bring it down to something that a common person who doesn’t work in the space industry will actually understand and appreciate. That’s a self reinforcing benefit back to the space industry as well because we know what we can do is critically important in all the different sectors.

Speaking of those sectors, he mentioned the underappreciated but “fundamental role national security plays in a sustainable space environment so that our commercial and civil entities can operate and thrive at any time, any place”; the importance of civil space agencies like NASA, NOAA and USGS is providing data central to confronting climate change and inspiring students through “ambitious” and “breathtaking” programs like Artemis and the James Webb Space Telescope; and exciting opportunities in the commercial sector like resource mining and on-orbit servicing and manufacturing.

The audience at the Space Symposium is heavily industry, and he spoke directly to them about the importance of getting input from the commercial sector not only through its representative on the Space Council, the Department of Commerce, but through the Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group (UAG). Parikh said they are reviewing the charter and membership of the UAG to ensure it matches the Vice President’s priorities and a formal nomination process for membership will be announced soon.

Under Vice President Mike Pence, who chaired the Space Council in the Trump Administration, the UAG had 28 members, mostly from the space industry, but also political allies. It was chaired by Adm. Jim Ellis, Jr. (Ret.). The space community will be watching to see who Harris picks as chair, its size and composition, and what role it will play in advising her on space issues.

When Parikh’s appointment was announced, the Vice President’s office said the first Space Council meeting would be “in the fall,” but no further information has been released.

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