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Trump administration aiming high in space exploration, Pence says at Space Symposium

April 16, 2018 Updated: April 16, 2018 at 5:07 pm
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Vice President Michael Pence gives opening remarks in the International Center at the 34th Space Symposium at the Broadmoor Hotel on Monday, April 16, 2018. (Nadav Soroker, The Gazette)

Vice President Mike Pence told a Colorado Springs crowd Monday that America will reach new heights in space under the Trump administration, including a pledge for manned missions to the moon and Mars.

Pence's speech kicked off the 34th Space Symposium at The Broadmoor, where more than 14,000 people are expected to gather over four days of talks on all things in orbit and beyond. A special focus this year will fall to military handling of satellites amid growing threats of war spreading to orbit.

Pence stayed away from most military issues, instead calling for civil space exploration and a new role for business in orbit.

"President Donald Trump believes the time has come once again to push onward and upward to new horizons and new destinations in the outer reaches of space," Pence said.

Pence leads White House efforts in space, heading a panel of experts that has periodically gathered in Washington to plot the next steps in America's conquest of the heavens. As chairman of the Space Council, Pence has brought GOP philosophy into the space race, calling for less regulation and more private competition in orbit.

On Monday, Pence said he expects Trump to soon sign off on regulatory changes that will "modernize and streamline outdated regulatory systems."

He also called for the government to take a more business-friendly approach to manned missions in Earth orbit.

"The government will be a tenant and a customer and not the landlord," Pence said.

That change includes a new relationship between business and government in space, Pence said. To foster that partnership, Pence on Monday rolled out a proposal that would seek business cooperation with Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs to track satellites and space junk.

Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn said the new space junk effort also ropes in the Department of Commerce.

A new regulation to control space traffic will cement that partnership and make orbit safer for military and commercial users by preventing debris strikes and satellite smash-ups, he said.

"That frees up the Department of Defense to focus on their mission," he said.

Last year, Pence called an American return to the moon a stepping stone for manned missions to Mars.

He repeated that call Monday.

The vice president pointed to the new $21 billion NASA budget approved by Congress this year as a sign that America is accelerating efforts to resume manned exploration.

Since the end of the Apollo program in the 1970s, American astronauts have remained in Earth orbit, with satellites and robots tasked with exploration beyond the planet. Pence said that's about to change.

"Today we stand at the dawn of a new era of human activity in space," he said.

While Pence garnered a lot of praise for his remarks, there were a few skeptics in the crowd.

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Wes Clark said the vice president offered plenty of pro-exploration talk, but too few specifics.

"I wish he had put some dates and some timelines on things," Clark said. "Let's be bold."

But for the business community, Pence's words were the finest poetry.

Rich Burchfield, who heads defense programs for the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, said Pence's push for more commercial activity in space could be a boon to the local economy, which is loaded with aerospace firms - from giants such as Boeing to tiny subcontractors with a handful of workers.

"It's fantastic to have the administration support the commercialization of space," Burchfield said.

Lamborn said just having Pence in town is a feather in Colorado Springs' cap.

"It highlights our growing role in the space community," he said.

While Pence avoided military topics, they will be front and center Tuesday, as Air Force leaders discuss the future of that service in orbit.

Air Force Space Command controls military space efforts now, but with leaders including President Trump mulling the creation of a new military branch for space, the future for the command is hazy.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and the service's top general, David Goldfein, will take reporters questions Tuesday and Wilson is giving a major speech Tuesday night at the symposium.

But Pence did lay down the big goal for the military in space. America, he said needs to be "as secure in space as we are here in earth."

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