U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was in the neighborhood Saturday, touring Jet Propulsion Laboratory before heading to a series of stops elsewhere in Southern California.
After his visit to the NASA campus, Pence tweeted: “Inspiring visit to Jet Propulsion Laboratory! Thanks to the team at @NASAJPL for your leadership in unmanned space exploration since 1957! Under @POTUS Trump. America is leading in space again!”
JPL Director Michael Watkins served as guide for Pence, second lady Karen Pence and their daughter, Charlotte, during the private tour, which included an update on the progress for the Mars 2020 mission and a look at the spacecraft descent stage from inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility.
The Pences also spent time in the Mars Yard, where they drove a rover nicknamed “Scarecrow,” which is used to test the mobility of other rovers. And they received a lesson about how to send commands to the Curiosity rover on Mars.
“We were honored to show the vice president, who has a strong commitment to space exploration, some of our special sites and space missions,” Watkins said in a news release. “With JPL’s rich history, which includes designing and building America’s first satellite for launch in 1958, and with our cutting-edge scientific capabilities, we stand ready to advance exploration as we move forward into our revitalized space age.”
Watkins presented Pence — who is chairman of the National Space Council — with a plaque presenting the view of the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity on the surface of Mars during the visit, which reportedly was met with about a dozen people who protested the Vice President’s motorcade.
He was in town one week before NASA’s mission to Mars on May 5. The launch of InSight, the “Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Godesay and Heat Transport,” will be the first planetary mission to take off from the West Coast, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. InSight will peer deep beneath the Martian surface to study the planet’s interior by measuring heat output and listening for seismic events.
The Pences also were accompanied on the tour by JPL Deputy Director Larry James, Mars Exploration Program Director Fuk Li, Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum, National Space Council Executive Secretary Scott Pace and Jim Ellis, chair of the NASA Space Council Users Advisory Group.
After visiting JPL, Pence reportedly was headed to a pair of fundraisers followed by a visit to Calexico to inspect the construction of a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
— Mirjam Swanson