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Trump Signs NASA Bill, Pence Says Space Council Imminent

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Mar-2017
Updated: 21-Mar-2017 09:10 PM

President Donald Trump signed the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act into law today.  During an Oval Office signing ceremony, Vice President Mike Pence said that Trump will soon reactivate a White House National Space Council and has asked him to lead it.

The signing ceremony included about a dozen members of Congress who worked on the bill (S. 442) as well as NASA officials, including Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot and astronauts. Among the members were Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representatives John Culberson (R-TX), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Brian Babin (R-TX), Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Bill Posey (R-FL), Steven Palazzo (R-MS), and Mo Brooks (R-AL).


President Donald Trump signs the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act into law during an Oval Office ceremony, March 21, 2017.  Snip from White House video posted on NASA YouTube channel.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, chief of the astronaut office, presented the President with an astronaut flight jacket.

In his formal statement, Trump summarized key provisions of the legislation, particularly praising the jobs it will create and its reaffirmation of support for NASA's "core missions" -- "human space exploration, space science, and technology."  He did not mention earth science.  Later he said the United States would remain a leader in aviation.

He invited others to speak after he signed it and Culberson remarked that just as President Eisenhower is remembered as the President who created the interstate highway system, he (Trump) would be remembered as creating the interplanetary highway system. 

Trump replied:  "Well that sounds exciting.  First we want to fix our highways. We have to fix our highways."

That is reminiscent of what he said during the campaign. When asked about his views on space, he said he loves what NASA represents, but "we need to fix the potholes first."

Thus, his comments today did not shed much light on what he plans to do with NASA.  His budget blueprint suggests the status quo, at least for now.  He may be waiting for input from a White House National Space Council that Vice President Pence today said would be established soon.

At the end of the ceremony, Pence said that "in very short order the President will be taking action to relaunch the National Space Council.  He's asked me to chair that as Vice Presidents have done in the past and we're going to be bringing together the best and the brightest in NASA and also in the private sector.  We have elected a builder for President and as he said America once again needs to start building and leading to the stars."

This is the first NASA authorization bill since 2010.  It sets policy and recommends funding levels for FY2017, which is already underway.  It does not provide any funding to NASA, however; only appropriations bills do that.  Congress is still considering the FY2017 appropriations bills.  NASA and other government agencies are funded right now by a Continuing Resolution basically at their FY2016 levels until April 28.  Congress must pass some other appropriations measure(s) by then to keep the government operating.

A National Aeronautics and Space Council was created in the 1958 NASA Act, but President Richard Nixon abolished it in 1973.  Congress reestablished a National Space Council (without the aeronautics component) in the FY1989 NASA Authorization Act and President George H.W. Bush implemented it by Executive Order in 1989.  It was chaired by Vice President Dan Quayle.  The National Space Council (usually abbreviated NSpC to distinguish its initials from the National Security Council) still exists in law, but has not been funded or staffed since the end of that Administration.   Space policy has been overseen in the White House by the National Security Council (national security) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (civil and commercial) since then.


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