VP Harris To Convene First Space Council Meeting on December 1

VP Harris To Convene First Space Council Meeting on December 1

Vice President Kamala Harris will convene the first meeting of the White House National Space Council on December 1. Speaking at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, she said they will meet to outline a comprehensive framework for the U.S. space program and made clear that a major focus will be efforts to address climate change.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaking at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, November 5, 2021. Screengrab.

NASA Goddard oversees many of NASA’s earth science programs as well as acting as the acquisition agent for NOAA’s weather satellites.

One earth science program getting a lot of attention right now is Landsat. Landsat 9 was launched in September, 49 years after the first in the series. It will add to the data set of comparable images over those five decades, allowing scientists to detect and analyze changes to Earth’s land surface.

The first images from Landsat 9 were shown to Harris during her visit this afternoon. NASA manages the development and launch of the Landsats while the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) operates the satellites and distributes the data. Landsat 9 is replacing Landsat 7, which has been only partially operational for years. Landsat 8 is also in orbit and will be paired with Landsat 9 to provide an 8-day revisit time.

Landsat is only one part of NASA’s earth science satellite fleet and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced a new program today, Investigation of Convective Updrafts (INCUS). A set of three small satellites that will fly in formation and study the behavior of tropical storms and thunderstorms, INCUS will launch in 2027.

Calling the climate crisis an existential threat, Harris said “it is incumbent on all of us to seize all the ways in which space can help us solve our biggest challenges.”

In introducing her, Nelson said he knew Harris to be a space visionary and space aficionado from their time together in the Senate and she did talk more broadly about space and the opportunities it presents.

“So here’s the bottom line. I truly believe space activity is climate action. Space activity is education. Space activity is also economic growth. It is also innovation and inspiration. And it is about our security and strength.” — Vice President Harris

By law, as Vice President she chairs the National Space Council and announced today that she is convening its first meeting under her leadership on December 1. Leaders from across the Biden Administration will “outline a comprehensive framework for our nation’s space priorities from our civilian efforts like those we have seen today to our military and national security efforts to STEM eduction and the emerging space economy.”

Diane Howard, Director for Commercial Policy, National Space Council. Photo credit: Department of Commerce

No changes have been announced to the Council’s membership so it apparently remains the same as under the Trump Administration’s February 13, 2020 Executive Order.  It includes the Secretaries of State, Defense, Commerce, Transportation, Energy and Homeland Security; Director of National Intelligence; Director of the Office of Management and Budget; Assistants to the President for National Security Affairs, Economic Policy, and Domestic Policy; Administrator of NASA; Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Chirag Parikh, Executive Secretary of the Council, announced at a NOAA advisory committee meeting yesterday that Diane Howard has been brought on board as Director for Commercial Policy. An expert on space situational awareness and space traffic management, she was counsel to NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce in the Department of Commerce during the Trump Administration.

Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined with Nelson and Harris at today’s event in urging Congress to pass the Build Back Better infrastructure bill. Nelson pointed out it includes $365 million for NASA’s climate activities.

That is part of an overall $1.115 billion for NASA in what is commonly called the “human infrastructure” bill. No Republicans support it and thus virtually every Democrat in the House must vote in favor for it to pass. Not all House Democrats are happy with some of its provisions, however, and it remains stuck. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced this afternoon she is again delaying a vote. Now it will not take place until after the House returns from a week-long recess scheduled for next week. During that time the Congressional Budget Office will further analyze the legislation to determine its cost and whether its revenue provisions cover it. Advocates estimate the cost at approximately $1.75 trillion and insist it is completely paid for.

The House did pass the “physical infrastructure” bill, which provides about $1 trillion for projects like bridges, roads, and rail. No money for NASA is in that bill.

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