President Joe Biden on Wednesday will sign an executive order expanding the membership of the National Space Council as part of efforts to harness space technologies to advance science and math education and tackle climate change.
The Cabinet-level body, which has been focused on national security, space exploration and commerce, will now also include the secretaries of Education, Labor, Agriculture and Interior, along with the national climate adviser, according to a White House official who asked for anonymity in order to disclose details before the announcement.
The expansion highlights “the administration’s emphasis on ensuring the benefits of American space activities are applied broadly throughout society and employed to solve the toughest challenges, including addressing the climate crisis and building a vibrant workforce for the future,” the official said.
The executive order, which marks Biden’s first but largely symbolic foray into space policy, comes ahead of the first public meeting of the council Wednesday afternoon chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris.
The council was revived in 2017 by then-President Donald Trump after a nearly 25-year hiatus. Chaired by then-Vice President Mike Pence, the group was the focal point for a series of presidential directives, including the establishment of the Space Force.
To coincide with the meeting, the White House will also release a seven-page “space priorities framework” outlining the administration’s broad goals.
The document outlines how space is “a source of American innovation and opportunity” and vows to maintain American leadership and “foster a policy and regulatory environment that enables a competitive and burgeoning U.S. commercial space sector.”
It also commits to “enhance the security and resilience of space systems that provide or support U.S. critical infrastructure from malicious activities and natural hazards.”
Calls have grown for securing space systems following Russia’s anti-satellite test last month which created thousands of pieces of debris that pose a hazard to satellites, spacecraft and the International Space Station in an increasingly congested low-Earth orbit.
“The United States will enhance the security and resilience of space systems that provide or support U.S. critical infrastructure from malicious activities and natural hazards,” the White House framework says, adding that the administration will also “bolster space situational awareness sharing and space traffic coordination.”
It does not name Russia or China, both of which are beefing up their ability to threaten space systems by military means.
But Harris has made clear that her priorities for the space portfolio are to expand STEM education and bring the benefits of space to under-served communities, including those most affected by climate change.
“We are on the cusp of historic changes in access to and use of space — changes that have the potential to bring the benefits of space to more people and communities than ever before,” the new White House framework says.
Harris will be introduced at the meeting by Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), a former NASA astronaut. Other council members scheduled to attend include national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
Standing in for their bosses will be Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
The council will also hear from retired Adm. James Ellis, who chairs the council’s Users’ Advisory Group, a federal advisory committee that is in the process of being revamped.
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