Vice President Mike Pence Space Council Visit

The Value Associated with Vice President Pence’s Visit

1. Why is Pence coming?

The vice president is flying into Huntsville for a meeting of the National Space Council at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. The center is home to a Saturn V rocket, and the city is home of the Saturn V program that powered America’s last visits to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. The space council advises the White House on achieving the nation’s current goals in space and usually meets in places with significance in American space history. Pence chairs the council.

2. Can the public see Pence or the NSC meeting?

The National Space Council meeting is closed to the general public, but there will be an audience of invited local guests. The meeting will also be live streamed on NASA TV starting at noon CDT. Pence has no public appearances on his schedule, but he is expected to tour the Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp while at the facility. Huntsville police have also advised that traffic will be backed up intermittently on portions of I-565 Tuesday from approximately 10-11 a.m. and again from 2-3 p.m.

3. What’s the National Space Council meeting about?

Reports in the space press suggest the vice president could use the meeting to challenge NASA to return astronauts to the moon in 2024. If he does, the question is for how long? A flight around the moon and back to Earth is one thing. It’s always been Phase 2 of NASA’s plans for returning to the moon after a first fly-around by an uncrewed rocket. But a return to an orbiting lunar station or a landing on the lunar surface would be a major effort for the space agency.

4. What should we be looking for?

The vice president’s specific challenge, if he issues one, is the big thing. But Pence is also reported to be unhappy with NASA’s pace of developing the Space Launch System at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told Congress March 13 that the space agency might give the first moon flight to commercial rocket companies instead of waiting for SLS. That surprise electrified the space community, excited fans of “new space” companies like SpaceX and angered NASA supporters. All will be listening to what Pence says in Huntsville to get a feel for how unhappy the administration is with America’s space program.

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