VP Pence promises return to the Moon, boots on Mars during KSC speech
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Less than a week after being designated head of the newly revived National Space Council, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. In keeping with the Trump administration’s theme of reasserting U.S. leadership worldwide, he declared to a crowd of elected officials and NASA employees: “We will return to the Moon and we will put American boots on the face of Mars.”
Embracing the multi-user spaceport
Pence addressed NASA personnel at KSC’s venerable Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). His audience included Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot and KSC Director Bob Cabana as well as both U.S. Senators from Florida, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio; Florida Congressmen Bill Posey and Ron DeSantis; Brigadier General Wayne Montieth, the commanding officer of the 45th Space Wing; Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi; the State of Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam; and Apollo 11’s Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin.
In addition to speaking, Pence toured KSC and reviewed the center’s progress toward becoming a multi-user spaceport. NASA has taken great pains to explain its two-pronged approach to exploration that, while the agency works to send crews beyond Earth’s gravitational sphere of influence, the task of handling crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) will be accomplished by commercial rocket companies.
The multi-user, public-private partnership theme was clearly on display, with SpaceX’s Dragon, NASA’s Orion (produced by Lockheed Martin), and Boeing’s CST-100 capsules on the stage behind the vice president and by remarks made by Lightfoot.
“Outside, you see government and commercial space working together as one,” Lightfoot said, noting that SpaceX’s high rate of successful launches, Blue Origin’s in-work manufacturing plant at Exploration Park, and Lockheed Martin’s assembly of the Orion spacecraft at the Operations & Checkout building.
In his remarks, Pence described the National Space Council as a body for coordinating and sharing information and technologies among the various players in space, including NASA, the Department of Defense, the commercial sector, and academia, emphasizing public-private partnerships could serve as the model for space activities going forward.
Big audience, big vision, details to come
Pence has been prominent in the administration’s public efforts to support NASA. He was at Johnson Space Center on June 8 to announce the new class of astronauts. During this event, he stated that he looked forward to leading the first meeting of the National Space Council before the end of this summer.
Given that the NASA Administrator and several members of the private sector are needed to complete the Council’s membership, Pence’s statement could indicate that he expects an announcement for a new NASA Administrator nominee soon. Emphasizing the National Space Council’s leadership role, Pence described space activities under the Trump administration as “a dawn of a new era of space exploration in the United States of America.”
“We will reorient America’s human space program toward human space exploration,” Pence declared, adding that NASA would “return our nation to the Moon, put boots on Mars, and go still further.” While not providing any specific programmatic details, Pence reiterated the administration’s commitment to human space exploration beyond Earth orbit.
Pence noted that his son was inspired to pursue a career as a U.S. Marine Corps Aviator after he had witnessed a launch take place from Florida’s Space Coast and that the agency had fulfilled a similar role in the lives of many within the United States.
“Let us do what our nation has always done since its very founding and beyond: We’ve pushed the boundaries on frontiers, not just of territory, but of knowledge. We’ve blazed new trails, and we’ve astonished the world as we’ve boldly grasped our future without fear,” the vice president told employees, government dignitaries, and space industry leaders in remarks at the facility’s VAB, where the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft will be prepared ahead of launches to the Moon, to Mars, and other possible destinations. “From this ‘Bridge to Space’, our nation will return to the Moon, and we will put American boots on the face of Mars.”
Lightfoot also worked to reinforce the vice president’s comments, stating:
“Here, of all places, we can see we’re not looking at an ‘and/or proposition’,” Lightfoot said via an agency-issued release. “We need government and commercial entities. We need large companies and small companies. We need international partners and our domestic suppliers. And we need academia to bring that innovation and excitement that they bring to the next workforce that we’re going to use to actually keep going further into space than we ever have before.”
Video courtesy of NASA
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.