The Next Giant Leap: US Will Return to the Moon, Pence Says

Original Article

By Mike Wall

The Trump administration is committed to sending astronauts to the moon as part of a broader push to prioritize human spaceflight and firm up U.S. dominance in the final frontier, Vice President Mike Pence said.

“We will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but [also] to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said today (Oct. 5) at the first meeting of the newly reinstated National Space Council (NSC).

“The moon will be a stepping stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America’s space program toward human space exploration,” Pence added. [From Ike to Trump: Presidential Visions for Space Exploration]

Under the previous administration, that stepping stone was much smaller: President Barack Obama had directed NASA to prep for Mars trips by visiting a near-Earth asteroid. In response, the space agency devised a plan to pluck a boulder off a space rock and haul that fragment into orbit around the moon.

Vice President Mike Pence delivers opening remarks during the National Space Council's first meeting on Oct. 5, 2017 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
Vice President Mike Pence delivers opening remarks during the National Space Council’s first meeting on Oct. 5, 2017 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.

Credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA

Yesterday (Oct. 4) was the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1, which kicked off the Space Age and the Cold War space race. Pence referenced that seminal event during his remarks today, while lamenting a perceived lack of direction in U.S. space policy.

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

As evidence of this drift, Pence cited the fact that NASA astronauts haven’t gone beyond low-Earth orbit since the final Apollo moon mission, in 1972. In addition, he noted, the country has had to pay Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station since the space shuttle retired in 2011. That service currently costs $76 million per seat. (Two U.S. companies, SpaceX and Boeing, are both developing capsules to take over this taxi service for NASA astronauts; these spacecraft could begin crewed flights next year.)

Pence pledged that the Trump administration, with the help of the NSC, will develop and implement a coherent, long-term U.S. space strategy.

That strategy will focus heavily on human spaceflight, economic development and national security, if Pence’s words today and in an op-ed published yesterday in The Wall Street Journal are any guide.

“We will renew America’s commitment to creating the space technology needed to protect national security. Our adversaries are aggressively developing jamming and hacking capabilities that could cripple critical military surveillance, navigation systems and communication networks. In the face of this threat, America must be as dominant in the heavens as it is on Earth,” Pence wrote in the op-ed. (A subscription is required to read the full piece, but some snippets are available for free at whitehouse.gov.)

“We will 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,” he added. “In the years to come, American industry must be the first to maintain a constant commercial human presence in low-Earth orbit, to expand the sphere of the economy beyond this blue marble. ”

The primacy of these stated goals was reflected in the makeup of the panelists at today’s meeting, which was held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. (The space shuttle Discovery is on display at Udvar-Hazy, providing a dramatic backdrop.)

Two of the three panels consisted of executives of the spaceflight companies SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corp., Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Orbital ATK. The third panel focused on national security and featured retired Navy Adm. James Ellis, the former chief of U.S. Strategic Command; former NASA astronaut and former DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Deputy Director Pamela Melroy; and former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

“We won the race to the moon half a century ago, and now we will win the 21st century in space,” Pence said at today’s meeting, a full replay of which you can see here.

The NSC was last active in the early 1990s, during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. President Trump resurrected the council via executive order on June 30.

North Korea Could Test Hydrogen Bomb Over Pacific Ocean, Says Foreign Minister

Original Article

By Joshua Berlinger and Zahra Ullah, CNN

(CNN)North Korea could test a powerful nuclear weapon over the Pacific Ocean in response to US President Donald Trump’s threats of military action, the country’s foreign minister has warned.

Ri Yong Ho spoke to reporters in New York shortly after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made an unprecedented televised statement, accusing Trump of being “mentally deranged.”

The forceful rhetoric from Pyongyang came after Trump threatened to”totally destroy” North Korea in a speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. Trump tweeted Friday that Kim was “obviously a madman” who would be “tested like never before.”
In a rare direct statement delivered straight to camera, Kim said that Trump would “pay dearly” for the threats, and that North Korea “will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”
“I am now thinking hard about what response he could have expected when he allowed such eccentric words to trip off his tongue,” Kim said. “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.”
Kim said Trump’s comments were reflective of “mentally deranged behavior.”
Hours later, Kim’s foreign minister told reporters in New York that Pyongyang could launch a nuclear missile test in response. “This could probably mean the strongest hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean. Regarding which measures to take, I don’t really know since it is what Kim Jong Un does,” said Ri.

Photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un taken from the front page of state paper Rodong Sinmun on Friday, September 22.

Japan’s defense minister Itsunori Onodera said the country must ready itself for the sudden escalation in tensions and be prepared for a missile launch.
“We cannot deny the possibility it may fly over our country,” Onodera said Thursday. Japan has been subject to two North Korean missile test flyovers in recent weeks.
In response, Trump said on Twitter: “Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind killing or starving his people, will be tested like never before!”

First-person first?

The phrase “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” could be considered an escalation in the choice of language used, said Vipin Narang, a professor of political science at MIT and expert on deterrence and nuclear policy.
“This is clearly trying to coerce the US into playing ball,” Narang told CNN.
In his first address to the United Nations as US President, Trump said that the US was ready to “totally destroy” North Korea if it was forced to defend its allies, a warning seen as unprecedented for a US president delivering an address to the world’s leaders and top diplomats.
Trump at UN threatens to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea 04:35
Responding to the speech, Kim said Trump’s comments amounted to an insult. “I’d like to advise Trump to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world,” Kim said.
A handful of North Korea analysts believe Kim’s response — the first time he has ever released a first-person statement — could show how personally the young leader took Trump’s speech.
“This is unprecedented, as far as we can tell,” Narang said. “It’s written by him, it’s signed by him … He was clearly offended by the speech, and what concerns me most is the response he says he is considering.”
“The message is chilling,” Narang said.
Asked to respond to Kim’s statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN on Thursday night, “Not at this time.”
North Korea was scheduled to speak at the UN General Assembly Friday night, but dropped off of its planned roster spot. The country could still get a slot at another time.
Ri Yong Ho: Trump’s threats ‘a dog’s barking’ 00:34

More sanctions

The White House, meanwhile, took the another step in its so-called “peaceful pressure” campaign to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear program, expanding sanctions on North Korea and those who do business with the country.
Though the majority of North Korea’s imports come from China, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said “This action is directed at everyone” and the steps are “in no way specifically directed at China.”
The executive order Trump inked just ahead of the lunch enhances Treasury Department authorities to target individuals who provide goods, services or technology to North Korea, Trump said. He said the order would also allow the US to identify new industries — including textiles, fishing and manufacturing — as potential targets for future actions.