Science and Exploration

Taking A Closer Look At The Vice President’s Speech To NASA

By Keith Cowing
February 20, 2020
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Taking A Closer Look At The Vice President’s Speech To NASA
Word Cloud Of Mike Pence's Speech

Vice President Pence addressed the employees at NASA Langley Research Center this week during a visit. We’ve made a word cloud of the speech to illustrate the relative importance of the topics raised by Mr. Pence.
(larger word cloud image)

NASA Langley Research Center Hampton, Virginia 12:43 P.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all for that very warm welcome. To Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Secretary Betsy DeVos, to Congresswoman Elaine Luria, and most especially to Director Clayton Turner and all of the incredible men and women who have been making great ideas take flight for 100 years: It is an honor to be here at Langley Research Center. (Applause.)

And Director Turner and I have been walking through wind tunnels and talking about flights to the Moon and to Mars, and seeing the new technology coming together. And I have to tell you, Mr. Director, it’s been truly inspiring. Although, he said that — he said to me, just a few moments ago, what inspires him most is all of you. He said his whole job as the Director of Langley Research Center is — and I’m quoting now — is “to create an environment where all of you can continue to be amazing.” (Applause.)

So join me in thanking Director Clayton Turner one more time. Stand up, will you? Thank you, Director Turner. Thanks for doing such a great — (applause) — you can show your appreciation. This is a man who loves this institution and is a great, great leader in this program. Thank you so much.

It really is great to be here with so many incredibly talented and brilliant men and women. You are part of a century of legacy here that’s been enabling incredible progress in American leadership in space. And it’s my great honor to be with each and every one of you.

And as I begin, allow me to bring greetings from a friend of mine who is also a great friend of American leadership in space and all of the men and women who have made it happen — past, present, and future. I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)

You know, as our NASA Administrator just said, from the earliest days of this administration, it’s been my great privilege to serve as chairman of the National Space Council.

I remember when we were campaigning for these jobs that the American people gave the President and I, he picked up the phone one day and called me, and he said — he said, “You know, I’m thinking of restarting the National Space Council.” It had been dormant for 25 years. And he said, “Mike, historically, the Vice President has chaired that National Space Council, and I wonder if you would have an interest.”

What I didn’t tell him was that this small-town boy from southern Indiana’s favorite memories of my youth were sitting in front of a black and white television as we saw one small step for man become one giant leap for mankind.

I didn’t tell him that when our kids were very young, we actually vacationed at Cape Canaveral just so we could go see the rockets. I didn’t tell him that, all of my life, my imagination had been fired by American leadership in space.

So I just said — when he asked me if I’d chair the National Space Council, I said, “Would I? Are you kidding?” And it’s been my great honor to lead the National Space Council that, thanks to President Donald Trump’s leadership, has renewed American leadership in space. (Applause.) True.

And being among all of you here at Langley Research Center, it’s an honor to be with men and women who I just know — and I heard the latest on the progress that we’re making — I know the men and women in this room are going to play a decisive role when, in four years’ time, we return American astronauts to the Moon — (applause) — and make sure that the next men and the first woman on the Moon are Americans. (Applause.)

But more on that — more on that in a moment.

It is a special privilege for me to be here at Langley today, to walk these grounds, to see these facilities. Really, to see, in so many way, where it all began.

For more than a century — it’s amazing to think of it — the men and women of Langley Research Center have been leading our country into the vast unknown. And what’s even more remarkable about all you’ve accomplished is, for one reason or another, it seemed like, more than 50 years ago, we were always starting from a step behind. But thanks to the ingenuity and the innovation of men and women here at Langley Research Center, America caught up, caught up fast, and has been leading ever since.

You know, it’s easy to forget that in 1917, when Langley was actually founded, the Wright Brothers had launched the aviation age on Kitty Hawk just 14 years before. But at that time, I’m told England, Germany, and Russia had more than 1,000 airplanes, while the United States only had 30.

By the end of World War II, though, thanks to the groundbreaking research conducted at Langley’s state-of-the-art wind tunnels, not only were American aircraft the gold standard of aviation design, but in a few short years, we would fly faster than the very speed of sound. And, in fact, the man who broke the sound barrier just turned 98 [97] years young last week. Let’s hear it for General Chuck Yeager — (applause) — and for all of you who designed the aircraft that went Mach 1 and beyond.

There was another moment in history too — it was 1957, a couple years before I was born. The eyes of the nation again turned to Langley, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit. The space race was on, and America was hurrying to catch up. Soon, the truth was the Soviets would widen their lead by sending the first man into space. But the men and women of Langley were up to the challenge.

They took President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s personally. In fact, it was your own engineer, John Houbolt, who perfected the idea of just how to land on the lunar surface, and all of the Apollo astronauts actually trained in these facilities. It’s amazing to think that, and it’s an incredible legacy.

In fact, I’m told that it was in the docking simulator in this very hangar that Neil Armstrong learned how to land on the Moon. It gives me chills to think about it. You know, and it was a testament to the preparation he received here that when he was asked what it was like to walk on the lunar surface, Neil Armstrong said, “[Just] like Langley.” (Applause.) That’s impressive.

In the years that followed, you all continued to excel, continued to push our nation further into the new frontier — landing a spacecraft on Mars in 1976; developing the space shuttle; helping to build the International Space Station, where American astronauts have now served for more than two decades.

Here at Langley Research Center, literally, you’ve led the nation — and, frankly, led the world — in the advance of science and technology. And I’d be — I’d be remiss if I didn’t another may — another way that you all have pushed forward — for in your eagle-eyed mission and your focus, you not only broke the sound barrier and inspired the nation, here at Langley Research Center, you broke the color barrier as well, and all of America celebrates. (Applause.) It’s true.

You all know we’re standing in the home of the legendary “Hidden Figures” — African American women, also known as “human computers,” who, despite the injustice of working in a segregated facility, lent our nation their incredible intellects and talents and helped us not only win the space race but also — also become a more perfect union.

Like one of the first African American women to work for NASA: She was born in West Virginia in 1918. She had a love for numbers even at an early age, I’m told. She counted everything: the number of steps to the road, the number of steps to church, the number of dishes or silverware she washed every evening. Everything she counted.

By 13, I’m told she was going to high school on the campus of West Virginia State College. By 18 years of age, she actually graduated from that college. In fact, a couple of her family members just told me that she — she addressed the graduation at that college not too long ago.

After graduation, she then left her job as a schoolteacher to settle down to a quiet life as a homemaker until history came knocking on her door.

She heard about an opening, I’m told, at the West Area Computing section here at Langley. Led by her fellow West Virginian Dorothy Vaughan, she decided to apply. She was hired in 1953, and it didn’t take long for her colleagues to recognize her intellect and her ability.

And I’m told her big moment came in 1962. NASA was preparing to make John Glenn the first American to orbit the Earth, but the mission hit a snag.

Although the engineers had used the best automatic computers available to calculate the exact trajectory of Glenn’s space capsule, I read that he wanted to be absolutely certain the machines’ calculations were right.

And John Glenn, history records, told them, “Get the girl” and have her check the calculations, by hand, with her desktop calculating machine.

And once she was finished, John Glenn was reassured. And he said, “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.” (Applause.) And he was.

In fact, tomorrow marks 58 years since John Glenn’s historic orbit. And what a debt this nation owes to him and just as much to that woman who helped make it happen.

At 101 years young, she is still with us, thank God. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Today, her name graces the Computational Research Facility on this campus. And we all remember the extraordinary motion picture that inspired the nation just a few short years ago.

So let me say, in honor of African American History Month, join me in recognizing a truly great American pioneer, Katherine G. Johnson. (Applause.) And join me in thanking her two incredible daughters, Joylette Hylick and Kathy Moore. Would you all please stand? These are two great ambassadors of their mom’s achievements and of everything great about the American space program. Join me in thanking this incredible family. (Applause.) Thank you, ladies. Thank you so much.

You know, we all owe a debt to many of the women of the “Hidden Figures” era, like Katherine, who broke down racial barriers while she pushed the frontier of human knowledge; like another one — an engineer from Monroe, North Carolina. When she was a little girl, I’m told, instead of playing with her dolls, she’d take them apart and put them back together, or she’d help her father work on his car — anything to learn how things worked.

After graduating from Hampton University with a degree in mathematics, she heard about the opportunity to work here at Langley, become one of those human computers — brilliant people gathered here. And NASA snatched her up.

But she wasn’t done yet. In 1975, after crunching data for eight years, she decided it was time to start creating data. She asked her supervisor why men with a similar education to hers were being hired as engineers, while women were not.

Stumped, her supervisor transferred her to the engineering section, to our great benefit, where she became one of the first woman aerospace engineers in NASA history. And during her 40-year career, she became, frankly, one of the world’s leading experts on supersonic flight, which she continues to offer her insights today.

For her life, for her contributions — past, present, and future — to American leadership in aeronautics and in space, join me in recognizing Dr. Christine Darden. (Applause.) Dr. Darden, thank you for your leadership, for your example, for all you’ve done for America and for the space program. (Applause.) It’s such an honor to be with you today. Thank you. Thank you so much.

You know, ever since Katherine and Christine came to NASA, all of you here at Langley have continued that proud tradition of empowering Americans from all walks of life and every background to take part in the extraordinary experience of human exploration and discovery.

And for all that you’ve accomplished here at Langley Research Center, it’s — it’s how you have done it, bringing all of the best of America together to do it. It’s really a way that Langley Research Center has inspired the nation in two ways — not just for what you’ve done but for who you are.

I mean, “Hidden Figures” — “Hidden Figures” inspire us about your great contributions to the life of this nation today. But the really good news is that “Hidden Figures” have given way to the “Modern Figures,” many of whom are with us here today. Am I right? (Applause.)

In fact, a couple of them I wanted to mention. Join me in recognizing the first African American Deputy Director of Johnson Space Center. She is with us here today and is truly an amazing American and — Vanessa Wyche. Where are you, Vanessa? I knew I’d written it down. Vanessa, stand up. Come on. She’s here from Johnson Space Center. (Applause.)

And then join me in recognizing an incredible American astronaut, Stephanie Wilson, who is with us today. Stephanie, thank you — (applause) — for your courageous contributions to the space program.

And I’ve mentioned him before, but he just also happens to be the first African American Director of Langley Research Center. Clayton Turner, thank you. Thank you for your leadership and your example. (Applause.) You’re all great Americans.

The truth is, people here at Langley have led our nation to dominance in the skies and in space. You’ve led us to important milestones and toward a more perfect union.

And now the eyes of the nation are turning on Langley once again. And I’m here today, on behalf of the President of the United States, to encourage you to bring your renewed energies to our new mission, maybe the most ambition — ambitious mission of all in the history of Langley.

You know, in our first year in office, President Trump signed what came to be known as Space Policy Directive-1. We made it the policy of the United States of America to return to the Moon and prioritize crewed missions to the lunar surface.

And ever since his signature dried on that document, I know all of NASA and Langley Research Center have been busy at work. I was inspired to get an update on that today.

I’m pleased to report to you as well that thanks to the efforts of so many of you here, before we even get to the summer, with the strong support of all of you, the United States will return American astronauts to space on American rockets, from American soil. We’re going back. (Applause.) And we’re going back from the USA.

It’s amazing to think — it’s amazing to think — because Stephanie and I were talking about it, this courageous astronaut — it’s been about 10 years since we grounded the American shuttle program. And since that time, we’ve been catching a ride from other nations up to the International Space Station. But those days are over.

And the NASA Administrator will testify I only call him about once a week to make sure that we’re still on track. And I know the imagination of the American people is going to be fired — it’s going to be fired anew as they see courageous men and women once again take that long walk, ride the elevator up, and climb into the capsule and return to space on American rockets.

But as we renew our commitment to human space exploration, the President also made it the policy of the United States to return to the Moon in a set period of time, within the next five years.

And the Director and I were talking about the fact, and I was inspired to hear, that when the President gave me the privilege in Huntsville of announcing our intention to return to the Moon within the next five years, he said there was someone who was planning to retire who said, “You know what? I’m going to put off my retirement because I want to be here at Langley Research Center when we get back to the Moon.” (Applause.) And you’ve got to thank him for me.

Together we’re going to ensure that the first woman and next man on the Moon will be American astronauts.

As President Trump said, we will “return American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use,” not only to “plant our flag and leave our footprint,” but once we get back to the Moon, as the President said, we’re going to “establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars.” We are going Moon to Mars, and Langley Research Center is going to get us there. (Applause.)

I don’t have to tell all of you that Langley is going to be absolutely vital to this mission. As I learned again today touring the facilities, I know you’re hard at work testing, in the wind tunnels, the SLS Space Launch System. It’s the most powerful rocket NASA will have ever built.

You’ve developed the Launch Abort System. You’re building the laser radar systems to enable our astronauts to land precisely on the Moon. Near the water, they’ll need to sustain a long-term presence. You’re testing new heat-shield designs to help our astronauts navigate the treacherous Martian atmosphere when we get there. And I’m also told you’re working with industry partners to develop the robotic space assembly and construction technology we need to land on Mars.

I was actually very impressed with all the robotics that we just saw that would be actually building the structures on the surface of the Moon while our astronauts are doing the exploration work. It’s really impressive. And to actually see that young engineer using an Xbox controller while he ran the whole thing was even more impressive. (Laughter.)

We’re capturing the enthusiasm of a new generation of American pioneers, and we’re bringing all of the best technology — and you here at Langley are making it happen.

So I really came by today just to say thank you. Thank you for what all of you are doing in this renewed mission for American leadership in space. And I want to assure you, under President Trump’s leadership, we’re not only going to have the will, we’re not only going to have the goal, but we are going to make sure that NASA and Langley have the budget to get the job done. (Applause.) We’re going to do it.

In fact, President Trump has already signed into law the largest budget ever for NASA in the modern era. And just last week, the President unveiled this year’s budget for NASA, which calls for a NASA budget of more than $25 billion. It’s a 12 percent increase. And let me just say, I can assure you that the support for NASA is strong and broad in Washington, D.C., and it is truly bipartisan. And I do want to thank Congresswoman Elaine Luria for your strong support not just of Langley, but of NASA. And thank you for being here today as well. (Applause.)

Now, of that amount, you’ll be glad to know, of the $25 billion in our budget, more than $12 billion is dedicated to making the Moon to Mars mission a reality. We are putting the resources of the American people behind the goals that President Trump has set and that you all are going to be tasked to make happen.

But we all know that we won’t get to the Moon — or Mars, for that matter — by relying on government efforts alone. This is a nationwide effort, as, frankly, our space program has always been. Isn’t that right?

We need all hands on deck. And we’re not going back to the Moon by ourselves. We’re going to be going with your support, with the great support of all of the civilian leadership here at Langley and the around the country, and we’re going to be leading with new commercial partners and freedom-loving international partners as we pave the way back to the Moon and Mars.

That’s why, frankly, under the President’s leadership, we’ve taken decisive action to unleash private sector space exploration like never before.

You know, the President puts it very succinctly: He wanted us to clear out the regulatory hurdles to private space exploration because, as the President said, rich guys love rockets, and we want to let them build them and carry us back into space. Right? (Applause.)

We want to see — we want to see that entrepreneurial spirit continue to develop, and it is. I don’t have to tell you here at Langley about the incredible entrepreneurial energy behind the space enterprise in the United States. You all are going to continue to be partners with all those private sector companies to make that happen.

And I want you to know our administration is absolutely committed to making it possible for men and women in American businesses to meet our low-Earth orbit needs, to provide for space tourism and to provide for the basics of space exploration and travel so that we can focus our energy on going farther and faster and beyond — getting back to the Moon and then on to Mars, and leading mankind in human space exploration.

It’ll be the people here at Langley and NASA centers nationwide that are going to be partnering with all those private sector firms and organizations. And I encourage you to do so. We’ve been hard at work streamlining licensing regimes that oversee commercial launch, re-entry, and remote sensing operations.

You know, it’s amazing — the Director and I were talking about some of this before — but it’s amazing that people that were looking to get a license to launch a rocket on the West Coast had to get a different license to launch a rocket on the East Coast. And so we’ve standardized all of it, we’ve worked on a space traffic management, and we’re removing outdated regulations that increase costs and, frankly, stifle innovation.

We’ve also encouraged a more stable space environment by developing that traffic management system. And, today, NASA is leading commercial-friendly efforts to plan the orbital platforms that will eventually succeed the International Space Station, as well as lunar landers that’ll carry us once we’re back on the Moon.

So I want to assure all of you that not only do you have the support of this President, this Vice President, but I have every confidence that you have the support and the admiration of the American people.

Stephanie and I were just talking about this, and she agreed with me, so I must be right. (Laughter.) That once we have American astronauts on American rockets being launched from American soil, the American people are going to know we’re serious, right? And I think it’s going to continue to fire the imagination of the people of this country. The broad, bipartisan support that we have on Capitol Hill, I think, is a reflection of the fact that America is ready to go again. We’re ready to lead again.

We’re, in so many ways, a nation of pioneers. And you all — some of you here, literally — and your families and all of you individually are part of that pioneering generation. So get ready to get busy.

The President has directed NASA and the Administrator to accomplish our goal to return to the Moon and then on to Mars not only within five years, but let me be clear: The President has made it clear that we’re going to accomplish this goal by any means necessary. In order to succeed, we are going to continue to focus on the mission over the means.

We want to challenge each one of you here at Langley: Consider every available option and platform to meet our goals, including industry, government, and the entire American space enterprise.

It’s the reason why we’re cutting out the underbrush of needless regulations and barriers to innovation, because we want you all to be able to reach, to engage, and to draw on the best ideas in America to get us where we’re going by the time we set ourselves to get there. Our administration is absolutely committed to this goal and we want you all to have the same determination and resolve to get there.

And this President and this administration and the American people are committed to achieving this goal through NASA and through the Langley Research Center. (Applause.)

So let me at least give you one word of admonition on behalf of your President and on behalf of the entire National Space Council: More than ever before, we want you to engage your imaginations, your creativity. Challenge one another. You know, there’s that old proverb that says, “Iron sharpens iron.” So I encourage you to come in every day with that same impatience and energy that, frankly, I heard in the voices of everybody that Director Turner introduced me to today. The enthusiasm as we walked through the Center, the fire in their eyes — just let that be in your eyes.

And as I said before: Engage with the private sector. Demand that they bring their best into this effort as we — as we lead America and America leads in human space exploration again.

The truth is, I know I’m standing before some of the most brilliant people in this country or in the world. But there’s also many in the private sector who are going to benefit. They’re going to benefit from your knowledge, from your collaboration. And we encourage you to reach out, to engage them in every appropriate way to help us achieve our mission.

Keep building on the partnership that the American space program has always been in this country. You know, it’s never been enough, here at Langley Research Center, to sit behind a desk and perfect theories. Theories are meant to be tested. And each one of you are men and women who understand that you’re in the testing business. You develop the theories here and then you’ve made sure, through the generations, that they’ve worked.

So I want to challenge you to continue to bring your renewed energies to that. And challenge our partners in the private sector to do the same, to give us new perspectives and know-how — how to make the ideas and the goals of the American people a reality.

Innovation never happens in a vacuum. Langley has been proving that now for a century. So we encourage you to bring — bring it all together. Bring the team together. Challenge one another and challenge our partners around the country to join us. And the best ideas come from debate, they come from testing, they come from conflict.

So I just encourage you to get out of the office, keep working hand in hand with all of our partners around the country, and know that we’re going to have your back every step of the way.

And in the midst of all of that, I just encourage you to have faith. Have faith in one another. I mean, you all are — you all are 100 years into an extraordinary enterprise here at Langley Research Center. It’s humbling to think of all the history that’s passed through this place.

And here at Langley, you have a tradition of excellence, of open-mindedness, of partnership, of collaboration, innovation. Now more than ever, we need you. We need you to continue that tradition as America renews our leadership in space.

But just believe in one another, in the limitless capacity of the American people to accomplish any mission once we set our minds to it. It’s what we proved when I was a little boy, when a President gave a speech and said we would land a man on the Moon by the end of a decade. And I had an astronaut tell me not long ago what was remarkable about that is we didn’t know how to do it, we didn’t have the equipment to do it, we didn’t have the people trained to do it, but America did it. And we’re going to do it again. (Applause.)

So I leave here today with renewed confidence. I have to tell you — Administrator Bridenstine knows — I just — I talked to some of those people over at the last facility and I just said we need to get these people on the road. The enthusiasm here is contagious.

And I have every confidence — I have faith in each and every one of you that you’re going to live up to the incredible legacy of which you are a part here at Langley Research Center. You’re going to continue to innovate, you’re going to continue to develop the ideas of the future to achieve all of our goals.

And I have to tell you, I also have faith in this new generation of astronauts. We just graduated the new class of astronauts down in Houston, didn’t we? I was there two years ago when they started their training. And I told a story then that, back in Indiana, we have a saying that, when you see a box turtle on a fence post, one thing you know for sure is he didn’t get there on his own. And the astronaut class went on to name themselves “The Turtles.” (Laughter.) And it’s an incredible group of men and women.

I mean, the technologies and the theories that you are developing here at Langley Research Center are going to carry aloft an incredible group of men and women that are going to create all new history for America and for mankind, on the Moon and Mars, and beyond.

And when it happens, just like it happened before, there’ll be heroes that we’ll celebrate who will have ticker tape parades and meetings at the White House. But I want you to know your President and your Vice President knows that every bit as much credit will go to each and every one of you here at Langley Research Center. You made it happen before, and we know you’ll make it happen again.

And we know, as you do all of your work, you’ll make sure that all those courageous Americans are to go into space as safe and secure as our abilities will allow them to go.

And I also know that, for millions of Americans, as we renew our commitment to human space exploration, we’ll — we’ll say that old prayer that Americans have prayed throughout our history for our explorers and all those who go into harm’s way in the name of America, in the name of freedom: That those who rise on the wings of the dawn, who settle on the far side of the sea, even those who go up to the heavens will know that even there, His hand will guide them and His right hand will hold them fast. That will be our prayer. The strong leadership of America in space made possible by our heroes and made possible by Langley Research Center.

So keep up the great work. We’re going, Langley, and we’re counting on all of you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. God bless you and God bless America. (Applause.)


1:19 P.M. EST

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.