By Mary Alys Cherry
“America will lead mankind to the stars once again,” Vice President Mike Pence told a standing room only crowd in Johnson Space Center’s Teague Auditorium, “and,” he continued, “there are plans to send man back to the moon for the first time in nearly 50 years.
“We’re not content with leaving behind footprints or even to leave it all. This time has come, we believe, for the United States of America to take what we’ve learned over so many decades, put your ingenuity and creativity to work and establish a permanent presence around and on the moon.”
Welcome words for a group of hard-working engineers and space scientists, after a decade of nearly being ignored by government officials.
“The vice president was at JSC after a stop in the hard-hit city of Rockport, where Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25, 2017 and where he and Gov. Greg Abbott made a helicopter tour to survey the recovery. Then it was on to Houston for several events before ending his Texas journey at the place he said “has been at the forefront of America’s journey to the stars,” bringing smiles to the faces of JSC Director Mark Geyer and Deputy Director Vanessa Wyche and the hundreds of other employees looking on.
It was his second visit to NASA’s lead space center. Earlier, he was here to introduce NASA’s newest astronauts. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who introduced Pence, also was back for his second visit in three weeks, much to the delight of the audience, most of whom couldn’t recall this much attention from Washington in years.
Pence, who serves as chairman of the National Space Council, admitted to being a space geek. In fact, he said he was like a kid in a candy store while touring JSC with Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt, one of the last two men to walk on the moon. Together, they visited NASA’s big swimming pool – also known as the Neutral Buoyancy Lab – and JSC’s eye-popping collection of moon rocks. Schmitt flew on the nation's last mission to the moon 46 years ago in 1972.
MANTLE OF GREATNESS
For more than 50 years, this storied center has been at the forefront of America's journey to the stars,” Pence continued. This is the ‘home of the Astronaut Corps.’ And, here, from the Mission Control Center, you have guided every American-crewed space expedition since 1965. The names and the voyages that you directed from this place adorn the mantle of American greatness. In Project Gemini, you steered some of our earliest astronauts high above what they called the “Blue Marble”, into low Earth orbit.
“In the Apollo Program, you navigated the first members of the human family to the moon and back.
“At this very hour, you walk with our astronauts through their duties as they walk 200 miles above us, orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes, on the International Space Station.
“The Johnson Space Center is a national treasure, and all the men and women who work here are a national asset,” he continued to great applause. “I have to tell you, I’m just speaking as a small-town guy from southern Indiana, but I know the American people admire — they admire the work done here — past, present — and they look for even greater things in the future here at Johnson Space Center. And let me to say to all of you, and all of those that might be looking on: The most important work and the best days for the Johnson Space Center are yet to come. Count on it.”
He went on to talk about the work of the National Space Council and the proposed U.S Space Force and how it may be needed in the future, noting that “the need is real,” as the Pentagon has just released a report that China and Russia are weaponizing, “developing and testing new and dangerous weapons and technologies to counter America space capabilities.”
Then, looking to the future, he added, “Sadly, for more than seven years we’ve been forced to hitch a ride to space. Those days are over. Soon – and very soon – American astronauts will return to space on American rockets launched from American soil.”