HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Vice President Mike Pence stated the United States plans to return to the moon within the next five years – with or without NASA.
Pence, who is the chairman of the National Space Council, attended the council’s fifth meeting on Tuesday at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.
Pence began the meeting with a half hour address that made clear President Trump’s goal to return American astronauts to the moon.
“Let me be clear. The first woman and the next man on the moon will be American astronauts launched by American rockets from American soil,” said Pence. “But to accomplish this, we must redouble of efforts here in Huntsville and throughout the program."
However, Pence was critical of delays that could slow America’s return to the moon.
“We’re actually being told that the earliest we can get back to the moon is 2028. Now, that would be 18 years after the SLS program was started,” stated Pence. “And 11 years after the President of the United States directed NASA to return American astronauts to the Moon. Ladies and gentlemen – that’s just not good enough. We’re better than that."
SLS, the Space Launch System, is NASA’s planned rocket system that would succeed the space shuttle.
“NASA must transform itself into a leaner, more accountable, and more agile organization,” said Pence. “If NASA is not currently capable of landing American astronauts on the moon in five years – we need to change the organization. Not the mission.”
Pence also noted that the Trump administration is not afraid to turn to private industry to stay on the proposed five year timeline.
“We’re not committed to one contractor. If our current contractors can’t meet this objective, then we’ll find ones that will. If American industry can provide critical commercial services without government development then we’ll buy them. And if commercial rockets are the only way to get American astronauts to the moon in the next five years, then commercial rockets it will be," said Pence.
Vice President Pence has taken his role as head of the Space Council seriously making multiple visits to NASA facilities around the United States since taking office. He last visited Marshall Space Flight Center in 2017.
Administrator of NASA Jim Bridenstine offered his agency’s response to Pence’s directive, stating, “We are working right now at making sure that every moment of time that we are using to develop SLS and the Orion crew capsule – we are only doing what is absolutely necessary to get to that first launch.”
“We anticipate there will be failure. I want to be really clear. When we see failure that is not necessarily failure, because we are learning. These are inexpensive missions with a little more risk than normal, but there’s no human lives involved. But at the end of the day if they are successful the return is exceptionally high. Especially if we want to get boots on the moon in 2024,” said Bridenstine.
Space Council members include: The Secretary of State; The Secretary of Defense; The Secretary of Commerce; The Secretary of Transportation; The Secretary of Homeland Security; The Director of National Intelligence; The Director of the Office of Management and Budget; The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; The Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; The Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; The Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; and The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The members or a designee will attend the meeting.
Members of the Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group have been invited to attend. The Users’ Advisory Group is comprised of private sector members, including Homer Hickam, former NASA engineer, author and Chairman of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission, the Rocket Center’s governing body.
“The Rocket City is the natural summit for the National Space Council,” Dr. Deborah Barnhart, CEO and Executive Director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, said. “The scions of the space industry craft our exploration vision. The Rocket Center is honored with their presence, and our Space Camp alumni worldwide are eager to fulfill our destiny in space.”
Previous meetings of the National Space Council have taken place at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, at Cape Canaveral, FL, The White House and the National War College in Washington D.C.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle says U.S. Space & Rocket Center is the perfect backdrop for a meeting of such caliber.
"The Space & Rocket Center itself highlights where we've been able to write the page of history. It's all showcased at the Space & Rocket Center so as they have the space council meeting, they'll be able to see the things that Huntsville has done in the past," he said. "The space council will be talking about the future of America in space, how we get back to the moon and Mars and deep space. All those questions are things the space council will be looking at and talking about. That's our future."
Mayor Battle added that it's fitting the instrumental group of space policy leaders and influencers will be in the Rocket City at the same time as the U.S. Army's AUSA Global Force Symposium and Exposition, happening at the Von Braun Center March 26-28.
“Both groups work to ensure America’s leadership in defense and space exploration, and both groups always have a home in Huntsville, Alabama,” Battle stated.
Huntsville Attorney Mark McDaniel on the Human Exploration and Operations committee of the NASA Advisory Council and commented on the significance of the meeting being in Huntsville.
"The national space policy board advises the president on space policy issues. space policy will govern NASA through this administration and hopefully other administrations. Space policy is what we're going to do in the future. So this board is extremely important," McDaniel said.
McDaniel added that some of the greatest minds in the world work at Marshall Space Flight Center so having the National Space Council meet in Huntsville speaks to the expertise in North Alabama.
“The fact that we have a president, vice president and NASA administrator that are taking this kind of interest in space policy. This is a generational act. It is something that’s so important to this nation,” McDaniel stated.