Vice president wants US businesses trailblazing into space

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence and his new space advisory council want U.S. private companies moving faster and farther into the cosmos, with the government easing restrictions on these 21st century pioneers.

The U.S. will get left behind, the National Space Council was warned Wednesday, if it doesn’t make it easier for companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin to set up shop in orbit around Earth and aim for the moon, Mars and beyond.

“Somewhere out there in space, is a bright red Roadster going thousands of miles per hour, the fastest car in history. We had better keep up with it,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Jr., a member of the newly revived space council.

Thanks to “impressive events” like SpaceX’s test flight of its new Falcon Heavy rocket earlier this month, which hoisted the Tesla sports car and its mannequin driver, “the United States is the leader in space once again,” Ross said.

Not only did the rocket send Elon Musk’s Roadster roaring toward Mars — Musk runs SpaceX as well as the electric car company — two of its first-stage boosters landed back at Cape Canaveral for further recycling.

“Very impressive, indeed,” Pence, the council’s chairman, told the crowd of more than 300 at Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX’s launch came up repeatedly during the two-hour session held in the building once used to prep pieces of the International Space Station. Besides the lucrative business of launching satellites, many of the nation’s aerospace companies are looking to capitalize with their own orbiting labs and tourist stops, asteroid mining camps, lunar bases and more.

Astronauts, aerospace leaders and NASA officials joined members of Congress and President Donald Trump’s Cabinet for this second meeting of the council. Two moonwalkers were on hand: Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin and Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt.

The Trump administration is pushing to get Americans back to the moon, a half-century after NASA’s Apollo heydays. The new budget proposal unveiled by the White House last week emphasizes lunar exploration, while urging NASA to turn the International Space Station over to private businesses in 2025.

Pence said in the proposed budget, “the government will be a partner and a customer, not a competitor.”

The council is eager to streamline government regulations for private businesses eager to launch satellites and other payloads into orbit, and join in trips to the moon, Mars and worlds beyond.

Pence said companies face licensing hurdles every time they try to launch a rocket from another state. It requires completing the process again, from start to finish.

“The government’s figured out how to honor driver licenses across state lines. There’s no reason we can’t do the same for rockets,” Pence said to applause.

After arriving at Cape Canaveral late Tuesday afternoon, Pence announced the formation of an advisor’s group to the council and 29 candidates to serve on it, including astronauts and space and military leaders.

It was Pence’s second official visit as vice president. He toured Kennedy last summer just as the space council was being re-established after two decades.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, came away pleased.

“We are prioritizing exploration,” Smith said in a statement. “We are streamlining our regulatory process. And we are looking forward to achieving and surpassing the exploration goals we set today.”