Vice President Mike Pence chairs the National Space Council at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, Oct, 5, 2017

Vice President Mike Pence chairs the National Space Council at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, Oct, 5, 2017

The National Space Council met Thursday for the first time in 25 years in an effort to return the United States to the forefront of space exploration.

Vice President Mike Pence, who chaired the council, said in his opening remarks that the U.S. will refocus its space program toward “human exploration and discovery,” beginning with a renewed American presence on the moon.

“American leadership in space will be assured,” Pence said at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. “We will return Americans to the moon … and build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond.”

Vice President Mike Pence chairs the National Space Council at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, Oct, 5, 2017

Vice President Mike Pence chairs the National Space Council at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, Oct, 5, 2017

Pence explained that America “seems to have lost our edge in space.”

“Rather than lead in space, too often we’ve chosen to drift and, as we learned 60 years ago, when we drift we fall behind,” he said.

“America must lead in space once again.”

Under President Obama, NASA’s administrator at the time, Charles Bolden, said in a 2010 interview with al-Jazeera that Obama had given him three charges, with perhaps the foremost being helping the Muslim world “feel good” about itself.

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“One, he wanted me to help reinspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering,” Bolden said.

The then-NASA chief added: “It is a matter of trying to reach out and get the best of all worlds, if you will, and there is much to be gained by drawing in the contributions that are possible from the Muslim [nations].”

Earlier in 2010, Obama canceled the Constellation program for manned space flight, the successor to the Space Shuttle.

His administration announced the moon program would be scrapped in favor of a plan to reach Mars. But the cancellation of the manned program meant NASA would need international assistance to go to Mars, angering former astronauts, who issued a statement denouncing the “devastating” plan that “destines our nation to become one of second- or even third-rate stature.”

Among the signatories of the statement were Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan, the first and last men to walk on the moon, and Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell.

Pence, in his opening remarks Thursday, pointed to space vessels on display at the museum that represent “a pinnacle in the history of man’s quest for knowledge and adventure.”

“Today, in the shadow of this history, we pledge to do what America has always done: We will push the boundaries of human knowledge,” he said.

“We will blaze new trails into that great frontier. And we will once again astonish the world as we boldly go to meet our future in the skies and in the stars.”

Commercial space industry

Pence said, along with space exploration, the Trump administration wants NASA to renew America’s commitment to creating the space technology needed to protect national security.

He cited intelligence community reports that Russia and China are pursuing a full range of anti-satellite technology designed to threaten the U.S. military’s effectiveness.

In a column published Thursday by the Wall Street Journal, Pence wrote that the administration also wants “to promote regulatory, technological, and educational reforms to expand opportunities for American citizens and ensure that the U.S. is at the forefront of economic development in outer space.”

Pence said that in the coming weeks, he and President Trump will assemble a Users’ Advisory Group partly composed of leaders from the commercial space industry.

Rendering of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner (Courtesy Boeing)

Rendering of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner (Courtesy Boeing)

Among the participants in the council meeting Thursday were CEOs Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin, Dennis Muilenburg of Boeing and David Thompson of Orbital ATK, who each emphasized the importance of the space program to the nation’s well-being.

“We have proven that U.S. ventures in space lead to broad societal benefits that lift our national economy,” said Hewson.

Boeing is assisting in NASA’s commercial crew program with the development of the CST-100 Starliner.

Orbital ATK’s Thompson said the U.S. should be able to put astronauts on the moon within five years through such vehicles.

In a panel on commercial spaceflight, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell described her companies development of reusable rockets and spacecraft, including the Big Falcon Rocket and Big Falcon Spaceship, which the company plans to use to transport people to the moon and Mars.

Along with Pence, members of the National Space Council include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, Deputy Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios and Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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