Pence to NASA Employees: Get Used to The Fast Pace

Pence to NASA Employees: Get Used to The Fast Pace

Vice President Mike Pence visited NASA today and received a briefing on the agency’s efforts to accelerate a return to the Moon, spur innovation with commercial partners, and ensure exploration is sustainable in the long-term.  He later met with employees, praising them for their hard work and encouraging them to “get used to this pace” because much more work lies ahead.  He also said he will be at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) next week for the launch of the first new generation GPS III.  The launch is scheduled for December 18.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (L) and Vice President Mike Pence (center) at NASA HQ, Dec. 12, 2018. Credit: NASA.

The briefing to Pence was not open to the media, but he was ebullient in his talk to employees afterwards.  He promised he and President Trump will work to make sure NASA has the resources needed to complete the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS).  “This year was a year to build. Next year will be a year to fly.”

NASA is still carrying December 2019 as the estimated launch date for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), although they have made clear for months that it more likely will take place in mid-2020.  A recent NASA Office of Inspector General report concluded it may not happen until well after that.

Participants in the briefing were:

  • Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States
  • Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator
  • Jarrod Agen, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Vice President
  • Dr. Scott Pace, Executive Secretary of the National Space Council
  • Jim Morhard, NASA Deputy Administrator
  • Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, NASA
  • Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for Science, NASA
  • Jeff Dewit, Chief Financial Officer, NASA
  • Janet Karika, Chief of Staff, NASA
  • Steve Jurczyk, Associate Administrator, NASA
Vice President Mike Pence meets with NASA employees at NASA HQ, Dec. 12, 2018. Credit: NASA

In his talk to employees, Pence made no commitments to try to get resources for any other element of the return-to-the-Moon architecture, like the Gateway, or other NASA activities in human spaceflight, science, aeronautics, or technology development.

Pence reviewed the fast pace of recent achievements including OSIRIS-REx arriving at Bennu, the InSight landing on Mars, the safe recovery of the Soyuz MS-10 crew after the aborted launch (although he mistakenly thinks Christina Koch was on that flight with Nick Hague — she’s on the next flight with him, Soyuz MS-12), and the launch of Soyuz MS-11.

He encouraged the NASA workforce to “keep your head down, keep working hard, but get used to the pace, OK? Because we are absolutely determined to once again the lead the world back into the exploration of space.”

NASA has been voted the best place to work in the federal government for the seventh year, which Bridenstine announced at the beginning of the event to cheers from the audience.  Bridenstine read notes he received from former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and former Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot expressing congratulations that the agency continues to be at the top of the rankings.

It was a festive event.  The only news was that Pence will travel to KSC for the GPS III launch next week.  The Air Force has named this first satellite Vespucci for the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci after whom the Americas were named.  Vespucci is the first of the new generation of GPS positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) satellites with improved accuracy, reliability, and anti-jam capabilities, and other modernization features.

Built by Lockheed Martin, it will be launched by SpaceX on a Falcon 9.  SpaceX’s Hans Koenigsmann said last week at a press conference for the Dragon launch to the International Space Station (ISS) that there will be no attempt to return the first stage because all the fuel is needed for the launch.  The first stage for last week’s Dragon launch did not land successfully.  The next landing attempt will be for the Iridium launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in January.


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