Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as chairman of the newly reconstituted National Space Council, called Thursday for the U.S. to return to the moon. That could be lucrative for commercial space companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Pence said the council’s objectives include laying groundwork for the U.S. to maintain a constant commercial, human presence in low-Earth orbit, as well as sending American astronauts back to the moon.
The moon presence not only would “leave behind footprints and flags,” but also serve as a steppingstone for future human missions to Mars and beyond, he said.
Last week, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk gave more details of the Hawthorne space firm’s plans to reach Mars. Musk described a large, fully reusable rocket and spaceship system called BFR that eventually would replace SpaceX’s current line of rockets and spacecraft.
To help pay for development of BFR, Musk said the system could be used for missions closer to home, as well as to transport large numbers of people to colonize the Red Planet.
One of those closer missions Musk suggested was to help establish a base on the moon. Musk said lunar surface missions could be done with BFR without propellent production on the moon.
“It’s 2017,” Musk said during his speech at a space conference in Australia. “I mean, we should have a lunar base by now.”
Company President Gwynne Shotwell attended the National Space Council meeting Thursday and talked about aspirations to reach the moon.
The Jeff Bezos-led space firm Blue Origin also has announced plans for Blue Moon, a lunar cargo transport service. Blue Origin Chief Executive Bob Smith said Thursday that the transport system could be developed within the next five years and that the company was willing to invest alongside NASA to make it happen.
Smith also spoke about Blue Origin’s plans to take paying tourists into space, noting the company expects to launch humans within the next 18 months.
While a return to the moon has been periodically revisited, the mention by the National Security Council adds a “certain kind of official seal on activities that the U.S. may pursue,” said Phil Smith, space industry analyst at Bryce Space and Technology.
“It just helps to add a little more momentum to the cause,” he said.
Thursday’s meeting was the first in almost 25 years for the council. The idea of a space advisory group first emerged during the Eisenhower administration. The council in its more current form was established by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 to advise the president on civil, commercial and military space issues. It was discontinued during the Clinton administration and resurrected this year by President Trump.