NASA Headquarters
Washington, D.C.

10:29 A.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, allow me to welcome members of the President’s Cabinet and members of the National Space Council to the seventh meeting of the National Space Council. And it’s a particular pleasure to be back here at the Washington headquarters of NASA and to be joined by the NASA Administrator, who is at the — in Houston as we speak, doing important preparations. Jim Bridenstine is with us.

But to all of our gathered here today: Welcome to the “Launch America” edition of the National Space Council. We are one week and one day away from when America will return American astronauts on American rockets from American soil to space. And it’s an extraordinarily exciting time in the life of this program.

And I know I speak on behalf of the President of the United States, when I — when I express my appreciation, Jim, to you, to the entire NASA team; my profound and humble admiration for the astronauts that we’ll be speaking to in just a few moments, who will be carrying American leadership back into space from American soil next week. And I know I speak for the President when I say how grateful we are for the long hours of work represented by the members of this administration, of so many critical agencies, that has really put into practice President Trump’s vision for renewed American leadership in space.

I had the great privilege — as I see General Hyten with us, Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — I had the great privilege of being at the Air Force Academy not long ago, when we commissioned the very first class of officers to the United States Space Force. And that, combined with the return of American leadership in human space exploration, this is an extraordinarily exciting time.

And it comes at an important time in the life of our nation. We find ourselves, over the last many months, dealing with an unprecedented pandemic. But we’ve seen the American people respond — from our healthcare workers, to first responders, to leadership at every level across the country. We have stepped forward and met this moment as a nation.

But now, as of today, when all 50 states are, in some measure, beginning to reopen; when we see encouraging signs of beginning to put the heartbreaking losses that we’ve experienced and the case numbers declining, that it’s a time of great hope and of great encouragement.

Even the news yesterday of a promising new vaccine being developed is giving hope to the American people that we’ll get through this. And when the history of this time is written, it’ll record that we got through this together, working together as Americans.

Under the leadership of this President, in full partnership with all of our governors, with a whole-of-government, a whole-of-America approach, we’ve responded.

But it seems to me altogether fitting that as the American people come every day closer to that day that we put the coronavirus epidemic in the past, that we’re approaching such an exciting time in the life of our nation — whether it be the launch of the Space Force or whether it be the launch of American astronauts back to space next week — this is exactly the kind of — of leadership that has ever inspired our nation throughout my lifetime. And I — and I know it’s going to be a great inspiration to the American people, when we — when we see those rockets fired next week.

I want to thank a special — a special group: all new members of the National Space Council who are with us. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, the Acting Director of National Intelligence Rick Grenell, and the new Director of the President’s Domestic Policy Council, Brooke Rollins. We welcome you to the National Space Council and are grateful to have your leadership.

Today we’re going to hear from other Cabinet members that have played such a key role in the development and implementation of the President’s vision for American leadership in space. Secretary Chao and Secretary Ross are going to update us on the latest on regulatory reform measures that have really catalyzed private and entrepreneurial development of space. The Secretary of the Energy — of Energy, Dan Brouillette, is going to talk about how we’re leveraging American energy in space. Jim Bridenstine is going to give us a report on the progress of not only Launch America, but also the Artemis program, which will put the — the next man and the first woman on the Moon by 2024. And we’ll hear from the Deputy Secretary of Defense about the standup of the Space Force.

I’m also especially enthusiastic about — about hearing from two extraordinarily courageous Americans. Colonel Robert Behnken is going to be the joint operations commander for the mission that will take to the skies and take to the heavens next week. We’ll be speaking to him in just a few moments. Doug Hurley will be the spacecraft commander as well. And these two astronauts represent the best of America, and they will be renewing — renewing American leadership in space from American soil. And we’re going to be very grateful to speak to them in the time that they have remaining today.

With that, let me just thank all of you. It’s remarkable to think, in three and a half short years, America is leading in space once again. With the launch of the Space Force, we’re seeing the security of our nation. With the return next week of American astronauts to space on American rockets from American soil, we’re renewing our commitment to lead in the vast expanse of space every bit as much as America leads in the free world.

So thank you all very much for your great leadership. And, Jim Bridenstine, share some opening comments. And then I think we’ve got some astronauts to talk to.

ADMINISTRATOR BRIDENSTINE: Yes, sir. In fact, they would be here right now. They are going through some final medical (inaudible). And as a matter of fact, (inaudible) is COVID-19 testing. So that kind of gives you the situation that we’ve been operating under during these days. And while it’s been difficult, it’s also important, which is why we’ve been moving forward with (inaudible).

I can tell you another important update that I just got. It gives me a heavy heart to share it with you, but Annie Glenn, the widow of John Glenn passed away just a — maybe even this morning; I just got the update.

The reason I bring that up is because it’s a reminder of the shoulders that we stand on. We think about the Mercury program, the Gemini program, the Apollo program, and the history that is behind us. As you mentioned, sir, we’re going to launch American astronauts on a brand new rocket. This has happened in American history four times: Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and now commercial (inaudible), and then on the fifth time (inaudible). So this is a historic moment, and I look forward to Bob and Doug joining us as soon as they get done with their medical testing.

In the meantime, sir, you’re absolutely right. We’re going back to the Moon. We’re going sustainably. We’re following the President’s Space Policy Directive-1. As you announced just over a year ago, we’re going to send not just the next man but the first woman to the South Pole of the Moon by 2024. And we have been moving forward very rapidly to achieve that end (inaudible).

And I’d just go through the different elements of that, where we’ve been making great progress. We all know that SLS is a rocket program that has been met with challenges and delays and cost overrun, but I want to be clear: We are very happy right now at NASA that the SLS core stage is complete. I want to say that again, sir: The SLS core stage is complete. And all four RS-25 have been integrated. It is now assembled at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, and it will be going through a green-run test this summer and (inaudible) the fall.

I will tell you, we would be complete with the green run by the end of summer if it wasn’t for the coronavirus, which has set us back. We had a (inaudible) down at the Stennis Space Center. But I’ll tell you, we’re in great shape there. The SLS rocket is looking very positive, and we’re going to be ready to launch the Orion Crew Capsule around the Moon in 2021. It’s hard to — it’s hard to imagine that’s a year away. We’re looking at, by the end of 2021, having a crew capsule around the Moon for the first time since the Apollo program.

So I want to be clear: The Orion crew capsule is also complete. Also, the European Service Module console, which (inaudible) the propulsion and the life-support capabilities of the Orion crew capsule is complete. They’ve been integrated. We sent them up to Plum Brook, which is part of the Glenn Research Center up in Ohio. Its testing came back amazing. They — I was kind of shocked with how little problems we’ve had with the Orion crew capsule and I’m knocking on wood as I say that.

The Orion crew capsule is back at Kennedy, and it is waiting for the SLS rocket to join it, where it will be mated and then launched in 2021 — towards the end of 2021 around (inaudible).

In the meantime, we continue to develop the Gateway, which is how we make sure that our landing systems on the Moon are sustainable. We need reusable landing systems. We need to be able to go back and forth between the Gateway, which is a small space station in orbit around the Moon, and the surface of the Moon over and over again. If we make those landers reusable, then we will have a sustainable program, where you will be able to have astronauts on the surface of the Moon for long periods of time and you will be able to access any part of the Moon at any time (inaudible) strategic objective of this nation.

So these are important capabilities. The power and propulsion limit to the Gateway (inaudible) developed. A small habitation module — we call it HALO — is also being developed. Those two elements are going to be mated by 2023 and launched into orbit around the Moon, establishing (inaudible) outposts around the Moon by 2023.

We also have international partners that are very excited about the Gateway and, you know, the Japanese Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency are all excited about building (inaudible) onto that Gateway for a longterm human capability in orbit around the Moon.

I would also say, in order to achieve this monumental moment of sending a crew capsule around the Moon by next year, we have to have Launch Pad 39 ready to go. Launch Pad 39 (inaudible) has its history — Apollo (inaudible) space shuttle program. And (inaudible) it is ready to go. And so we’re very excited about this (inaudible) program.

I think it’s also important to note that we have an extra vehicular mobility unit, sometimes called a spacesuit, that we have now designed here at the Johnson Space Center. We’ve designed it so that you can walk on the surface of the Moon, which is very different than doing space (inaudible) at the International Space Station. We’ve got dust issues. We’ve got thermal issues. And we have a spacesuit that is — I wouldn’t say it’s ready to go, but the design elements are almost there. In fact, 2024 we will be ready to walk on the surface of the Moon.

We also, as you’re aware, sir, announced — we had a graduation ceremony for 11 new astronauts. These are the best that America has to offer. I know that you’ve looked over their bios, and of course you were there when their class started. They called themselves the turtles because of a story you told when they first came into the astronaut (inaudible) as candidates.

But I will tell you that they have now graduated. They’re the best of the best. And we actually put out a (inaudible) for a new astronaut class. We had 12,000 astronaut applicants. So this is a demonstration of how inspiring NASA is to the nation, and certainly how — I think it’s important to note that we put the requirements on the astronaut candidates higher than they’ve ever been before. And yet, we still got 12,000 applicants.

So the Moon program is underway. It’s going fast. We’re also going (inaudible) program. Next year, we’re going to launch the first commercial lander to the surface of the Moon. I’m talking about for scientific capabilities. NASA has the payload ready to go. We’ve got a number of contractors that can land on the Moon, mostly with a small lander, and we’re going to do that for the first time in 2021.

The Artemis program — of course we named it “Artemis” because Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology — is (inaudible). We are so grateful to the leaders (inaudible), the chairman of the National Space Council, making sure that we have the resources necessary to achieve these milestones. But, you know, when we talk about the (inaudible), you know, that is the — really, the starting point for the journey to Mars, the long-term goal.

But (inaudible) mentioned just a few minutes ago, we are launching American astronauts on American rockets to the International Space Station for the first time since the (inaudible) of the shuttle back in 2011. We have now, for nine years, been without a human space program. And in fact (inaudible) Space Policy Directive-1, we have been without a Moon program. In the meantime, China and others around the world are going to the Moon very quickly. But we’re coming back and we’re coming back fast.

We’ve got everything we need to lead the world once again and our international (inaudible) are coming back (inaudible) these efforts. But in order to get (inaudible), we first have to be able to launch American astronauts on American rocket. Of course, the Commercial Crew program is the standard for how (inaudible) lower-orbit (inaudible).

And we have two amazing Americans with us right now. I just got told that they now out of their medical testing and they are with us. I’d like to introduce Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. And I want to — I want to just say so you know this, these are veterans of the space program and have flown numerous — each of them have flown numerous times in space and space shuttle to the International Space Station. And of course, if you look at their bios, we’re talking about an engineer from (inaudible), a test pilot in the Marine Corps, and we’re looking at a flight-test engineer from the Air Force, a PhD from Caltech in mechanical engineering. These are the best that America has to offer and they are about to embark on a test flight. The very first time we’re going to launch American astronauts on a commercial vehicle — this time a Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon crew capsule and they’re going to — they’re going to carry the (inaudible) to the International Space Station.

So, I’ll let Bob and Doug say a few comments. Mr. Vice President, I’ll let you ask them a few questions.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, Jim. Thanks for that very thorough and informative review of renewed American leadership in space here at NASA. I know President Trump is grateful for all of your efforts, all of the efforts of the NASA team that’s looking on, and we’re incredibly proud of the timetable that you’re on.

And — and what a privilege it is to convene the National Space Council and have an opportunity at the dawn of a new era of American leadership in space to be joined by two NASA astronauts — two very experienced NASA astronauts who will be returning to space next week on American rockets from American soil. And let me formally welcome Colonel Robert Behnken and Colonel Douglas Hurley.

And on behalf of the President of the United States and on behalf of the American people, thank you for your long service to this nation, thank you for your incredible leadership in NASA, and thank you for stepping forward one more time. And welcome –welcome to this meeting of the National Space Council.

Now, by way of introductions, I can — I’m proud to say that Colonel Behnken is going to be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for all the rendezvousing, docking, and undocking. A native of Missouri, he’s been a NASA astronaut since 2000, but before that, he was a flight test engineer general in the United States Air Force.

Colonel Hurley is going to be the spacecraft commander for Demo-2, responsible for activities — launch, landing, recovery. A native of Appalachian New York. Selected as a NASA astronaut in the same year as his counterpart, 12 years into his NASA career, Colonel Hurley retired from the United States Marine Corps, where he proudly served as a fighter pilot and a test pilot for more than 24 years. And, Colonel Hurley, I will tell you that my Marine Corps fighter pilot son will be very jealous that I had a chance to speak to you today. (Laughter.) He really will.

Each of these men have completed two space flights aboard the space shuttle and have logged more than 1,300 hours in space, 6,000 hours of training. They’ve been through rigorous preparation for next week’s launch. And let me — let me just recognize — let me just recognize you, Colonel Behnken. And afterwards, we’ll get some comments from Colonel Hurley.

But thank you for being with us today. I know it is a very, very busy time, but we’re really honored to have a chance to speak to you for a few minutes.

Colonel.

COLONEL BEHNKEN: Well, thank you for that, Mr. Vice President. We really appreciate the (inaudible) opportunity to speak with you this morning as we move towards this historic flight. We are just a small part of a giant team that’s going to to execute this mission to launch America again. We’re pretty excited to launch from (inaudible) Alpha. Both Doug and I have launched from that facility before, so it’s really exciting to get a chance to bring it home again.

Doug and I have both spent (inaudible) years in the Astronaut Office, going through the process. American astronauts (inaudible), and we’re really excited to have the experience to bring it back home and share with the new classes of astronauts what it’s like to launch Americans from American soil.

We do want to thank the team who worked (inaudible) hard to continue to press forward on this mission in the face of the challenges of the COVID-19 situation. And we’re both really excited and prepared to pull this off and bring it back home.

With that, I’ll pass it over to our mission commander, our spacecraft (inaudible) Hurley.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Robert. Great words. Very inspiring. Go ahead, Colonel.

COLONEL HURLEY: It’s great to talk to you, Mr. Vice President, Administrator Bridenstine. Great to see you again, sir.

We can’t emphasize enough the amount of hands who’ve touched this vehicle from start to finish. The folks in the commercial (inaudible), the folks out at SpaceX. It’s just been an incredible journey to get it this far. And in some ways, it’s really hard to believe we’re going to launch next week, but it’s incredibly exciting.

You know, as Bob mentioned, the challenges of the last few months for the entire world and United States and how the teams come together during this pandemic to get us to the point where we’re (inaudible) has just been awe-inspiring. And I hope that (inaudible) great respect for all of the work that folks have done to this point. It’s a real honor to just be a part of this program and to launch American rockets out from Florida one more time.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Doug.

COLONEL HURLEY: Thank you.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: And thank you. And it really is a testament to all of you and, as you said, all of the hands in this program that even in the midst of a national crisis, NASA stayed on mission and kept doing the work. And I have to tell you that it’s going to be a great inspiration to the country next week to see you two go aloft from the Kennedy Space Center.

Doug, you were — I’m told, if I got my facts right here — you were on the final space shuttle mission. And this is going to be a little bit different. I’d love — I’d love for you to share with the National Space Council and to those looking on what is it — what does it mean to you to be going back to space from American soil after nearly 10 years and since we — since we ended the space shuttle program?

Number two, did you expect us to be headed back to space?

And number three, how different — how different is this experience in — in training and in the — and in the rocket itself — the spacecraft from the shuttle mission? Whatever you want to reflect.

COLONEL HURLEY: Yeah, I appreciate that, sir. The — I guess the first part of it is that it’s a tremendous honor to be part of a shuttle flight. Just 30 years of history and to be able to (inaudible) was just a humbling experience for sure. And great to share with the (inaudible) and of course all the folks that were involved with the shuttle program for so many years. So it was just a tremendous honor.

You know, the last nine-plus years have been a lot of work and a lot of people’s work to get us to this point where we’re ready to launch again from Florida. And I certainly won’t deny that there have been an incredible amount of challenges through those times. You know, just getting to the point where we had two companies provide that service, and then working through all those critical challenges that came along the way.

I think Bob will certainly agree with me that the shuttle training program would very much establish, almost down to the minute, what we would do the year and a half before we (inaudible) every day. I mean, it was very well understood. The training program that we have with Drago was something that we took an active role, along with the training folks here at NASA and training folks at SpaceX to best develop. So it’s been a work in progress for at least the last few years, and it will probably continue to be home for the next few flights until it gets to be the finished product.

It was a very neat experience to offer our insights in operational experience for them to make the training program what it is now, but I think it’s going to continue to improve. But it was almost a completely (inaudible) experience from the international training program.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Is that right? Is that right? How about the spacecraft? How do you think — and what — I’ll go to Bob. Colonel, how — how different is this ride going to be, you think, from your shuttle ride? Or is it different at all?

COLONEL BEHNKEN: I think for both Doug and I, we’re expecting a very different experience from the Falcon 9 and the Dragon capsule at the Space Station. Of course, years have passed so we have a much more modern design with the Dragon vehicle, and we’re looking forward to that. Those that have seen pictures of the inside of the space shuttle, saw a lot of (inaudible) Duct Tape additions that we got there when it was originally designed. And many of those features that were added have been incorporated directly into the vehicle, and we’re very appreciative of that.

I think the — the other thing that we’re really excited about in this partnership that SpaceX and NASA have continued to achieve, to draw upon NASA’s experience as they continue to integrate and build something new (inaudible). So I think we’re really proud of that partnership and proud of the vehicle that we — the team — all that, specifically to (inaudible) and those with the SpaceX team — we’re all one group. We’re going to pull this mission off and we’re really looking forward to, you know, doing them proud and then doing a good job to (inaudible) the members of our team as we accomplish the mission of docking to the International Space Station.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s — it really is interesting to me, Doug, that you talk about — with the shuttle program, you literally, day by day, had — after years and years, you had a training plan in place.

And with this one, it sounds like it’s — with the commercial crew concept, it’s been — you’ve been helping to invent the preparations as you’ve gone. And that’s a great testament to both of you and to the fact that, while American astronauts have gone to space many times over the last 50 years, you all are, in a very real sense, trailblazers of a new era.

Do you — do you feel that? Or is this — do you see this just more as a continuation? But how excited — how excited are you, Doug, just simply about — about whether it — whether it be this mission or whether it be Artemis, whether it be — whether it be the United States Space Force — what does all this mean to a guy that’s been at this for a great career like you?

COLONEL HURLEY: Well, thank you. I — it’s tremendously exciting to see where we are on the cusp of launching a (inaudible) next week; Artemis not far behind. I mean, it’s just an exciting time to be in the space business. And, you know, the direction we’re going — you know, beyond low-Earth orbit after so many years, it’s just — we are honored to be just on the ground floors, so to speak, as we work our way back out into (inaudible). I mean, it’s — I almost wish I was a young astronaut again, because it’s going to be an exciting time for astronauts —

THE VICE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.) I know the feeling. (Laughter.)

COLONEL HURLEY: — to fly in space.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, that’s a great line. And —

COLONEL BEHNKEN: No, I’m still a young astronaut. I’ve — — (laughter).

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Listen, we’ll let you go. I do — I want to commend you: You all are not just two great astronauts, you’re — you are part of two great astronaut families. I understand both of your spouses are also astronauts, and so this is a — I know this is a very, very special time.

And I just want to tell you, I know I’m going to be — I’m going to be in Florida tomorrow. I’ll — I am sure that I will be sensing the excitement building in Florida. There — you will have had a lot more people watching nearby at previous launches. I think they’re — they’re encouraging Americans to watch from afar, but I want to assure you that the President and I are looking forward — looking very much forward to cheering — cheering you on. I know you’ll be carried aloft with the prayers of millions of Americans for a safe and successful mission.

And let me just say on behalf of all the members of the President’s Cabinet and the President of the United States: Thank you for your courageous service. And thank you for the time today in what I know is — I know this is a head down every hour of preparation week for you, but it’s a real privilege to be able to speak to both of you.

And — and as we think of the passing of Annie Glenn, another — another incredible member of the NASA family, we just say Godspeed to both of you.

So thank you all very much. And let’s give these two a round of applause. (Applause.) Thank you, men. Great.

COLONEL HURLEY: Thank you, sir.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great. Thank you, all.

END

11:01 A.M