Pence Promises Return to the Moon & Boots on Mars

Mike Pence

Vice President and newly minted Chairman of the revived National Space Council Mike Pence visited NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Thursday where he gave a speech promising a return to the moon and boots on Mars.

When? How? What will it cost? And how are we going to pay for it?

Pence didn’t get into that level of granularity. In fact, he didn’t get into very many details at all during his address to KSC employees.

Pence’s speech consisted of a lot of platitudes delivered with attitude and lots of latitude as to what it all meant in practice.

If you watched it and were baffled, welcome to the club. That seems to be the consensus of the media coverage I’ve seen so far among reporters who cover space.

A couple of themes came through in Pence’s address. One is the White House is determined to restore U.S. leadership in space, the world and elsewhere. Where exactly the country is lagging, and what specific changes were needed to remedy the situation, were not made clear.

The vice president did mention focusing the agency on human exploration, which is code for slashing the agency’s climate change research. This is an area in which the United States is actually leading the world. However, Pence doubts that global warming is a threat. President Donald Trump has called it a hoax created by the Chinese.

Pence effusively praised Trump as a great leader with a tremendous vision and commitment to making America no. 1 in space again. The president was merely helping to carry out his boss’s vision.

Anyone who watched Trump speak during a ceremony last Friday at which he signed an executive order reviving the National Space Council would be surprised by Pence’s claim. Trump’s short address was a confusing word salad of vague promises and bold assertions that seemed to have been left out baking in the hot Washington sun for too long.

Trump’s comments last week made Pence’s speech today look highly detailed. It was difficult to watch the president talk about space with any sense that he’s thought about it for more than five minutes.

It didn’t help when the signing ceremony ended with a bizarre exchange between the president and Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

“Infinity and beyond,” Aldrin said, invoking the phrase used by Buzz Lightyear in “Toy Story.”

“This is infinity here,” the president replied. “It could be infinity.  We don’t really don’t know.  But it could be.  It has to be something — but it could be infinity, right?”

Ahhh….yeah. Right. Whatever you say, sir.

So, Trump’s comprehension of space policy doesn’t seem to be too solid. But, being a good second in command, Pence gave his boss all the credit for the administration’s bold revival of the space program — whatever it will be.

Space in this administration appears to be a Pence operation. He spoke at some length about how the National Space Council that he is heading will bring together the government’s disparate space activities and coordinate them and other stuff.

Pence seemed really enthused by the council as he described. But, I imagined most of the KSC employees in the audience couldn’t care less about some bureaucratic reorganization of space policy in faraway Washington. Their questions probably ran along more practical lines:

  • What exactly are you going to do?
  • Are we landing people on the moon or just orbiting it?
  • Are you going to cancel SLS? Orion?
  • Turn everything over to Musk? Or Bezos?
  • Am I going to have a job in six months? A year from now?

None of those details was forthcoming. And there was no Q&A session. No naming of staff for the space council. Pence also gave no hint as to when the Trump Administration would get around to nominating a new NASA administrator to replace the one who left in January.

The vice president did promise to convene the National Space Council later this summer. So, that is something.