WHITE HOUSE - Vice President Mike Pence is in Houston, Texas, to reaffirm the Trump administration's plans to establish an American Space Force by 2020, return Americans to the moon, and set its sight on Mars and beyond.
During a speech Thursday at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Pence said that recent Pentagon reports have shown that China is "aggressively weaponizing space" and that Russia is developing weapons to "counter America's space capabilities."
Pence said the Department of Defense is moving forward to "strengthen American security in space" and that the administration will work with Congress to secure funding and authorization to establish Space Force as a new and separate branch of the armed forces.
Pence also highlighted efforts to move the Lunar Orbital Platform, formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway, from proposal phase to production. NASA, the main U.S. agency for space exploration, and several of its partners, have been developing plans for this lunar-orbit space station that would be used as a staging point for lunar exploration and would have several gateway-to-space features, including a propulsion system, a habitat for the crew, and docking capability.
In its 2019 budget, NASA has requested $504 million in funding for this project, which has yet to be approved by Congress.
There was little new detail in Pence's speech other than reiterating the administration's vision for "American dominance in space." Space Force has been mentioned by Pence on several occasions, and a theme that President Donald Trump often returns to, including during his rally in Charleston, West Virginia, on Tuesday.
Trump first announced the creation of Space Force at the White House in June. He pledged to reclaim U.S. leadership in space, framing it as a national security issue, and saying he does not want "China and Russia and other countries leading us."
Trump's Space Force has triggered debate in military space exploration, as well as legal circles, including whether it may violate international law. The U.S. is a signatory and ratifier of the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967.
The treaty prevents any nation from declaring sovereignty over space or heavenly bodies, and prohibits space-faring countries from blocking other nations from exploring space. There are further restrictions over military presence on heavenly bodies such as the moon, which according to the treaty "shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes."
Last December, Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, a national space policy directing a government-private partnership with the goal of returning Americans to the moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond.
The policy calls for the NASA administrator to "lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities."
Pence has been the leading spokesperson for the U.S. space program, delivering remarks about the country's space ambitions on behalf of the president.