U.S. VP Pence continues tour of NASA facilities with stop to Marshall Space Flight Center
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — After stops at NASA’s Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence toured the space agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on Monday, Sept. 25. The visit marked a first in terms of the White House and provided the agency with another opportunity to highlight not only its on-orbit capabilities but also its plans for crewed deep space missions.
While at Marshall, Pence visited Marshall’s Payload Operations Integration Center. This is where NASA handles all research aboard the International Space Station (ISS), and Pence took a moment to chat with members of the orbiting lab as well as to talk a bit about some of the individuals who work every day to make space flight a reality – NASA’s flight controllers.
“Today, I met pioneers who are helping America travel into the unknown and expand our knowledge for the benefit of the nation,” Pence said via a release issued by the space agency. “I’m inspired by the people at Marshall, and NASA as a whole, who are passionate and dedicated to space exploration. The massive hardware and innovative technologies we are building will propel us far beyond our home planet and allow America to lead in space again.”
NASA is currently planning on conducting the first uncrewed flight of its Space Launch System super-heavy-lift rocket in 2019 on what has been dubbed Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1). When EM-1 lifts off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B, it will be the second flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft.
“The work underway today at Marshall, supporting station science and with SLS, is integral to ensuring this nation’s incredible global leadership in human exploration,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot in the same release. “Vice President Pence now has personally visited three NASA centers in the last four months, and I deeply appreciate the Vice President’s strong commitment to our space exploration mission.”
Pence stopped by the engineering facility that NASA is currently using to develop the engine section for the SLS’ core stage. This device allows engineers to carry out tests somewhat similar to standing on a soda can (in terms of the application of pressure) and should allow the agency to ensure that the rocket and its four Aerojet Rocketdyne produced RS-25 (heritage Space Shuttle Main Engines from the Shuttle Program) can handle the stresses placed on them on ascent.
The SLS engine section is capable of producing more than 8 million pounds-force (35.6 kN) of thrust, which is required to launch the Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO). Engineers will install sensors on the test section of the EM-1 SLS in an attempt to obtain some 3,000 measurements during the rocket’s maiden flight.
“The work we are doing today is paving the way for a new generation of astronauts to travel farther into space than humans have ever ventured before,” said Marshall Center Director Todd May. “This next chapter in the story of our national space program is being written by the men and women of Marshall, who keep us on the leading edge of spaceflight and truly make this the Rocket City.”
Pence spoke to the Expedition 53 crew, which consists of the Expedition’s Commander Randy Bresnik, flight engineers Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba, Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryanzansky and Alexander Misurkin, and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli. Pence’s call was transmitted to the ISS from Marshall’s science command center, marking the first time a White House level call was conducted from the facility.
Pence concluded his tour of Marshall‘s facilities with a stop at the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center.
Video courtesy of NASA
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.