Scott Pace Departing White House National Space Council Today

Scott Pace Departing White House National Space Council Today

Scott Pace will return to George Washington University effective tomorrow, January 1, after a three-and-a-half year leave of absence while serving as Executive Secretary of the White House National Space Council.  In a statement he said he is looking forward to resuming his career “educating future space leaders.”

Scott Pace (center) at the December 9, 2020 meeting of the National Space Council, Kennedy Space Center, FL. Screengrab.

Pace was Director of the Space Policy Institute at GWU’s Elliott School of International Affairs before being tapped by the Trump Administration to lead the National Space Council staff.  He is returning to that position.

President Trump reestablished the Space Council in 2017 as part of the Executive Office of the President after a 25-year hiatus. It is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.

The Trump Administration still has a few weeks to go and other Space Council staff, which includes detailees from various government agencies, will continue their work.

In a statement, Pace, who is also a Deputy Assistant to the President, called his time with the Trump Administration an “honor of a lifetime.”

In an interview, Pace pointed to the Trump Administration’s achievements particularly in bringing a whole-of-government approach to space policy where the interrelationships among civil, commercial and national security space are recognized and understood.

He expressed enthusiasm for the bipartisan support for space in Congress, though a bit of disappointment that legislation including a new NASA authorization act and a commercial space bill were not passed.

Looking back over the past four years, although the Administration may not have gotten everything it wanted, at least “we advanced the ball” in many areas of space policy, Pace said.

The Space Council has been very active throughout the Trump Administration, starting with Space Policy Directive-1 (SPD-1) in December 2017 restoring lunar landings to NASA’s human exploration program.  The Obama Administration eschewed landings on the lunar surface, focusing instead on getting astronauts to Mars.  The issue of whether putting astronauts back on the Moon, just three days away in an emergency, as a proving ground before committing to missions to Mars, on the order of two years round trip, remains debatable.  President Trump himself questioned the need for lunar landings even as he accelerated the timeline for doing just that from 2028 to 2024.  However, the current plan, named Artemis, definitively includes not just astronauts using the Moon as a steppingstone to Mars, but a sustainable program of lunar exploration and utilization with commercial and international partners.

That was just the first of six Space Policy Directives dealing with civil, commercial and national security space. The White House also issued two space-related Executive Orders and other reports and strategies.

President Trump also reestablished U.S. Space Command as an 11th unified combatant command. It is separate from the U.S. Space Force, a sixth military service created by Congress and Trump in the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act.  The military services “organize, train, and equip” personnel that are then available to the unified combatant commands in charge of warfighting.

The Space Council itself met eight times in open session, most recently on December 9. It is composed of Cabinet officials including the Secretaries of State, Defense, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, and Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, the Administrator of NASA, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and several assistants and advisors to the President.  Its Users’ Advisory Group of outside experts met five times.

The incoming Biden Administration has not indicated whether it plans to continue the National Space Council.  It was created in law (the 1989 NASA Authorization Act), but presidents can choose whether to fund and staff it as part of their White House operations. President George H.W. Bush did, but Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama did not.  They managed space policy through the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and National Security Council (NSC) instead.

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