Johnson Space Center

Houston, Texas

12:51 P.M. CDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you, Administrator Bridenstine.  To the members of Congress who are here; Director Geyer; to all our distinguished guests, including the Chief of the Astronaut Office, Pat Forrester, and nine members of the Astronaut Corps who are with us today; to all the men and women of NASA who are here in this hall and watching around the country, men and women who push the boundaries of human knowledge for the benefit of all: It is my great honor to be here at the “home of human spaceflight,” the Johnson Space Center.  (Applause.)  So proud of you.

It’s great to be back.  And before I begin, let me bring greetings from a great champion of American leadership at home and in the boundless expanse of space.  I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States, President Donald Trump.  (Applause.)

It really is an honor to be with you today, at such a time as this in the life of our space program and in the life of our nation.  Thanks to President Trump’s vision and decisive action, with strong support from our partners in Congress, and thanks to the pioneering work and courage of the innovators and astronauts represented here, past, present, and future, and because of the enduring commitment of the Johnson Space Center and NASA, America is leading in space once again.  (Applause.)  It’s true.

And we’re grateful to all of you.  But let me begin tonight — today as well — by saying how grateful we are for our NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine.  He served as a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy, he served in the Congress, and now he is leading NASA with distinction at the dawn of a renewed age of human space exploration, led by the United States of America.  Jim, thank you for your leadership.  (Applause.)  Great job.

And I also want to thank the still-kind-of-new Director here at Johnson Space Center, Mark Geyer, recipient of NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal.  His career here has actually spanned more than three decades and I couldn’t be more impressed with the job that Mark Geyer is doing or the fact that he’s a graduate of Purdue University.  (Applause.)  Join me in thanking — Mark, stand up.  Stand up.  Take a bow.  (Laughs.)

I also want to thank a few other people before we get going.  I want to acknowledge your two senators, who are champions of this space program.  I know they’re not with us today — they’re working on Capitol Hill — but join me in thanking Senator John Cornyn and Senator Ted Cruz.  They fight for this space program every day.  (Applause.)

And I know it got mentioned before, but we actually served together when I was in the Congress.  And I just want to give some special recognition to someone who I’ve known since the first day we met in 2001 has been a passionate champion of NASA and of the Johnson Space Center, and of American leadership in space: Congressman John Culberson.  (Applause.)  It’s true.

You got to know, Congressman Culberson is not just a congressman from Texas, he’s the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the budget for NASA.  And because of President Trump’s leadership and vision, and because of the strong support of Congressman Culberson and our bipartisan support in the Congress, President Trump signed the largest budget for NASA since the days of the Apollo Program.  Thank you, John.  (Applause.)  Great.  We really thank them all.

So it’s great to be back at the Johnson Space Center.  Today, I got to look around a little bit and I was like a kid in a candy store.  (Laughter.)  I’m telling you what — it was amazing talking to astronauts training at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab.  I looked at some lunar samples.  I was told that the samples we were looking at, still encased, haven’t been opened since they were gathered nearly a half a century ago.

And it was my privilege to wander around this place with a great American, a hero of Apollo 17, and a man that all America is proud of — one of the last two men to walk on the moon — Jack Schmitt.  It is always an honor to be with you.  (Applause.)  Thank you for your leadership.

We rode over in my car together, which is kind of cozy — lots of stuff piled in there.  And I was just imagining, maybe I was in the — (laughter) — me and Jack Schmitt in close quarters.  (Laughs.)  As close as I’ll ever get, Jack.  (Laughter.)  Thank you.

Thank you for your leadership and your courage, and your commitment — a member of the User Advisory Group, advising the National Space Council to take NASA to even higher levels.  Thank you again, Jack.

With the strong support of all these leaders, I’m pleased to report to the whole team here at NASA, President Trump has brought renewed vision and renewed action to America’s space program.

Last summer, as Jim mentioned, after it had lain dormant for nearly a quarter of a century, President Trump revived the National Space Council, and put us all to work.  (Applause.)

As we speak, the National Space Council — bringing together all different agencies of government that bear on this program, and bringing together the best minds in and around American space leadership — we’re forming a cohesive and comprehensive strategy for America’s space activities.

It’s my honor to serve as Chairman, and we’ve already forged new partnerships between the federal government, leaders in industry, and academia.  We’re enacting new space traffic management policies to protect our assets in that crowded realm.  We’re rolling back stifling red tape so we can tap the bottomless well of American innovation.

We’re also renewing our national commitment to discovery and to exploration, and to write the next great chapter of our nation’s journey into space.  That’s why, last December — 45 years almost to the minute since Jack Schmitt and Gene Cernan landed on the moon — President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive-1.  It is now the official policy of the United States of America that we will return to the moon, put Americans on Mars, and once again explore the farthest depths of outer space.  (Applause.)

And the President’s leadership and all of your great work is the cause of what brings me here today, for this is the mission; this is future of the Johnson Space Center.

For more than 50 years, this storied center has been at the forefront of America’s journey to the stars.  This is the “home of the Astronaut Corps.”  And, here, from the Mission Control Center, you have guided every American-crewed space expedition since 1965.

The names and the voyages that you directed from this place adorn the mantle of American greatness.  In Project Gemini, you steered some of our earliest astronauts high above what they called the “Blue Marble,” into low Earth orbit.

In the Apollo Program, you navigated the first members of the human family to the moon and back.

At this very hour, you walk with our astronauts through their duties as they walk 200 miles above us, orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes, on the International Space Station.

The Johnson Space Center is a national treasure, and all the men and women who work here are a national asset.  (Applause.)

I have to tell you, I’m just speaking as a small-town guy from southern Indiana, but I know the American people admire — they admire the work done here — past, present — and they look for even greater things in the future here at Johnson Space Center.

And let me to say to all of you, and all of those that might be looking on: The most important work and the best days for the Johnson Space Center are yet to come.  (Applause.)  Count on it.

Our administration has laid out a new vision for space.  President Trump’s vision to push our nation farther, get there faster than ever before, is being implemented even as we speak.  And unlike prior administrations, we have a vision with the budget to match.

As I mentioned, thanks to Congressman Culberson’s leadership and the strong bipartisan support in the Congress, President Trump already signed into law historic funding for NASA.  And we’ve also fully funded NASA’s most important endeavors from deep-space human exploration: America’s rocket, the Space Launch System, and the Orion space capsule.

These projects, as you all well know, are emblematic of American leadership in the cosmos.  The Space Launch System will be the largest and most powerful rocket ever built.  It will generate a staggering 11.9 million pounds of thrust and reach speeds of nearly 7 miles per second.  And all this force, all this energy, will lift American astronauts into space aboard the Orion capsule.  (Applause.)

I just saw one of those Orion capsules floating out in that big tank.  (Laughter.)  I know we’re getting ready to put that thing up in the air.  And it will be up before you know it.

The next Americans who set foot on the moon will start their journey by stepping through Orion’s hatch.  And this extraordinary spacecraft will one day bridge the gap between our planet and the next, for the Orion will be a critical part of the vessel that carries American astronauts to Mars.  (Applause.)

And you, here at the Johnson Space Center will guide these journeys.  For while our sights are once again set on our lunar neighbor, this time we’re not content with just leaving behind footprints, or even to leave at all.  This time has — a time has come, we really believe, for the United States of America to take what we have learned over these so many decades, put your ingenuity and creativity to work, and establish a permanent presence around and on the moon.  (Applause.)  We’re going to do it.  We’re going to do it.

Now, some say that America doesn’t need to go back to the moon; that we ought to focus on issues closer to home.  That attitude was probably best described in one of my favorite movies, called Interstellar.  (Laughter.)  Remember that scene on the front porch?  It was an incredible quote.  One of the characters in the movie said, and I quote, “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars.  Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”  That’s not how Americans think.

Truthfully, that kind of thinking led people in the past to even cancel the Constellation Program.  That would have put Americans back on the moon by 2020 and set the stage for exploration to Mars and beyond.

That decision was a mistake.  It said to NASA, it said to our country, to the entire world, that America was no longer serious about human space exploration.  We talked about going to Mars, but without the moon as the stepping stone, without stronger commercial partnerships to help us get there, a crewed mission to the red planet was not much more than a mirage.

But those days are over.  America will lead mankind to the stars once again.  (Applause.)  We will.  We will.

Our administration has restored the moon as the focal point of our national space activities because we recognize its pivotal importance.  And that’s why, under President Trump’s leadership, our administration is swiftly advancing the most important precursor to outposts on the moon and the mission to Mars — the first space station that will orbit our nearest neighbor the Lunar Orbital Platform.

Last year, NASA began to work with American innovators to design this gateway’s unique electric propulsion system.  We’re working with the Congress to provide an unprecedented $500 million to move the Lunar Orbital Platform from proposal to production.

We’re only a few short years away from launching the gateway’s first building blocks into space, turning science fiction into science fact.  And our administration is working tirelessly to put an American crew aboard the Lunar Orbital Platform before the end of 2024.  Men and women of the Johnson Space Center: It’s not a question of if; it’s just a question of when.  (Applause.)

Now, we’re on the cusp of a new golden age of exploration.  I believe it with all my heart.  And we’ve got the courageous astronauts that are ready to lead us there again.  As NASA continues to push back the borders of this still-new frontier, we will empower America’s private pioneers as well to cultivate the vast expanses that we’ve already explored.  We’ll ensure that American security in space is attended to as well.

You know, the moon sits at the edge of the known and the unknown.  But between here and there, there are some 240,000 miles.  The region between the Earth and the moon is ripe for opportunity, and nowhere is that more apparent than immediately beyond our atmosphere.

Low Earth orbit is critical to America’s national interests.  It holds immense strategic, scientific, and commercial value.  And we know this because of your work here at the Johnson Space Center, with the International Space Station.

You know, ever since Bill Shepherd first floated aboard the ISS in the year 2000, there’s been a continuous human presence in low Earth orbit, and the results have really been extraordinary.

The ISS has conducted groundbreaking research on microgravity, life support systems.  It’s been a testbed for cutting-edge space technologies and systems, including 3D printers in zero gravity; fostered medical discoveries for cancer and other diseases; and given us new ways to treat our nation’s veterans.  The International Space Station has spurred unprecedented collaboration between our federal government and a new generation of innovative American companies, as well.

Let me say this clearly: The International Space Station has been an unqualified success, and the men and women of Johnson Space Center deserve the credit for the history you’ve made.  (Applause.)  You do.

But like Skylab before it, the ISS, as you all know, has a finite lifetime.  And with the deadline for direct funding set for 2025, we have to prepare immediately for what comes next.  To ensure American leadership in low Earth orbit tomorrow, we are taking action today.

In the words of mission controller and legendary leader Gene Kranz, we need to be “tough and competent” to achieve our goals.  And together with NASA, we’re already developing a comprehensive plan to do just that.

The Johnson Space Center knows well the high cost of inaction.  The men and women of NASA have always been committed to American leadership in space, but too often, our policymakers have failed to match your conviction with action and investment for the future.  The last decade is proof.

The end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011 left America without a viable human space launch program.  While I was a member of Congress, I actually had the opportunity to attend three different shuttle launches — some of the most inspiring experiences of my little family’s lives.

Sadly, for more than seven years, we’ve been forced to hitch a ride to space.  Many Americans don’t know that we’ve actually been forced to pay Russia to carry American astronauts to the International Space Station.  And today, that cost runs about $82 million per seat.  Those days are about to be over.  (Applause.)

I’m going to make you a promise: Soon, and very soon, American astronauts will return to space on American rockets launched from American soil.  (Applause.)  And when they go, of course they’ll be guided by the dedicated team here at the Johnson Space Center.

You know, when we ended the Shuttle Program, it was more than a loss of momentum, though.  It was really a tremendous loss for America’s space workforce.  You all know that better than me.

The end of the Space Shuttle Program meant that many of our leading researchers, technicians, and space professionals no longer had a mission.  Here at the Johnson Space Center alone, some 3,200 contractors were laid off, cutbacks and consequences rippled through universities, research labs, our space industrial base, and even the Department of Defense.

These were men and women who you knew, you worked with.  They were men and women of creativity, and intellect, and unparalleled skill.  But they were, frankly, victims — victims of our government’s shortsightedness in those days.  America lost nearly a decade of space experience.  And, frankly, we’ll never know the opportunities that we missed and the progress that was missed at that time.

But let me promise all of you, and all of the men and women of NASA and our national space enterprise: Our administration will not repeat the mistakes of the past.  We will forge this new era of American leadership in space on your innovation, and the extraordinary integrity and intellect and innovation of our space workforce.  (Applause.)

The Johnson Space Center has already given us a glimpse of what the future will hold.  This center is now a thriving hub of partnership between the federal government and America’s pioneering space companies.

You’ve worked closely — and Mark and I were just talking about this — you’ve worked very closely with private industry to deliver critical cargo and material to the International Space Station through the Commercial Resupply Services, which has already successfully completed 23 different missions, with more on the way.

As we speak, you’re making remarkable progress on the Commercial Crew Program.  Earlier this month, as President Trump celebrated himself, NASA announced the astronauts who will conduct the first flights on Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX Dragon.  And they’ll be going as early as next year.  (Applause.)

But, really, we’re just getting started.  This is just the beginning.  As NASA reorients toward human space exploration, our private companies and visionary innovators are going to take the lead in developing the regions closer to home.  They will do as Americans have always done — will inspire the world with their ability to create opportunity and, frankly, prosperity.  Not out of thin air — out of no air.  (Laughter.)

Our administration, as we speak, is working with the Congress to give NASA the funding you need to ensure that these new space pioneers are given the freedom and flexibility to be able to develop what they should develop, and make it a smooth transition to an exciting future of collaboration.

The Johnson Space Center is going to continue to play an essential and irreplaceable role in navigating America’s future in low Earth orbit.  You can count on it.  America will not ever abandon the critical domain of space.  We will open the way for innovators and development, and we will lead once again in human exploration.  (Applause.)

And as I stand here today at the home of our civilian spaceflight program, let me also assure my fellow Americans that, under President Trump’s leadership, we’re also taking steps, as we speak, to ensure that American national security is as dominant in space as it is here on Earth.

We’re already deploying new technologies and more resilient satellites.  Earlier this month, at the Pentagon, it was my privilege to lay out President Trump’s plan to establish a sixth branch of our armed forces: the United States Space Force.

The United States Space Force, we believe, is an idea whose time has come.  Just as our nation established the Air Force to ensure American dominance in the skies in the mid-20th century, in this still-new century, we will create an armed service devoted solely to advancing American security in space.

And the need is real.  Just this week, the Pentagon released a report showing that China is aggressively weaponizing space.  Russia, too, is developing and testing new and dangerous weapons and technologies to counter America’s space capabilities.

Now let me assure my fellow Americans here, our administration is committed to keep America ahead of our adversaries in this critical domain.  And as we speak, the Department of Defense is moving forward with initial steps to strengthen American security in space, and we will continue to work with both parties in Congress to provide the necessary authorities and funding to stand up a new branch of our armed forces.  And the United States Department of Space Force will be a reality by the year 2020.  (Applause.)

You know, it really is incredible to think about the history you all have made here.  And it’s humbling for me to serve as your Vice President, but also to have been asked by the President to serve in the role as Chairman of the National Space Council.

The truth is, our nation has not only inspired our people, but we’ve inspired the world by the progress that we’ve made.  And it’s been because of all of you, because of the work that you’ve done here, because of the tireless and peerless work of NASA.

But the truth is, as much as it’s been important for NASA to lead in the past, you are the linchpin to American success in the future.  The truth is, with all of you, we will go farther — farther than even before.  We will bring distant places and opportunities closer to the grasp of future Americans.  We’ll be remembered in our time for having done our part for the ongoing and limitless reach of the American Dream.

So today, I just simply want to leave you with a challenge.  As we write this new chapter of American exploration, I urge you to embrace this new energy and these new opportunities.  Rededicate yourselves to the mission of NASA after you leave here today.

Know that you have, in this President and our entire administration, and, I believe, in the hearts of the American people and those that represent them, you have great champions and great advocates that are anxious to see your work expand.

I just know in my heart, in our lifetimes, with your renewed energy and creativity and dedication, we will do as Americans have always done.  NASA will awe the world with our daring heroes, with our discoveries, and with our relentless determination to bring new horizons and new vistas within the reach of mankind.

This is a fitting time to rededicate ourselves to the noble mission of this agency, for this year marks the 50th anniversary of, really, a seminal moment of American leadership in space — an achievement that inspired not only our nation, but all the world.

It was Christmas Eve, 1968.  The heroes of Apollo 8 — Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman — were orbiting their craft above the moon’s foreboding surface.  History records, as they rounded the moon on that fateful night, on the horizon, they saw home — an oasis of light and color and warmth, floating untethered in the dark void.  They were the first to catch a glimpse of our world as Heaven sees it.

Through the ingenuity and courage of your predecessors, they were further away from us than any humans had ever been.  And on that night, they spoke to the world from that spacecraft — not about the grey moon that was beneath them, but about the miracle that rose from the horizon before them.

As the world listened, history records they read ancient verses from the Book of Genesis that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and they closed with the verse, “and God saw it was good.”

Those pioneers saw from that far perspective that however deep into the cosmos we may reach, our destiny — mankind’s destiny, is not only here on Earth, it is in the heavens as well.  (Applause.)

So men and women of the Johnson Space Center, men and women of NASA here and watching around the country, let’s go forth and meet that destiny together to do what Americans have always done.  Let’s seize it with ingenuity and courage, and let’s seize it with faith.

You can be confident in the — the American people have faith in all of you.  We’ve seen what you’ve done before in those that have served in your positions before, pushing the boundaries of human knowledge, forging a new era of American leadership in space.  You’ve done it before; we know you’ll do it again.  To go forth with faith in the ideals that bind us together as a nation and give us purpose as a people — ideals that America will take freedom into the farthest reaches of this new frontier as well.

And finally, to those of you who will guide this mission, on a personal level, I just — I want to assure you that millions of Americans will carry you in their prayers.  And they have faith and hope you have confidence that, as you go, you do not go alone.  That millions of Americans will claim that ancient promise that if you “rise on the wings of the dawn”, if you “go up to the heavens,” “even there His hand will guide you,” and “His right hand will hold us fast.”  Our heroes will go with the prayers of the American people.  (Applause.)

So thank you for — thank you for the warm welcome today.  Thank you for your extraordinary work.  I leave here today more confident than ever.  With the renewed commitment of all of you here at the Johnson Space Center, and all the men and women of NASA who are advancing America’s space enterprise every single hour of the day; with the strong leadership of President Donald Trump; and a renewed vision for American leadership in space, led by the President supported in our Congress; with the strong support of the American people; and with God’s help, I know that our nation has a brighter future than ever in the boundless expanse of space and we will lead into that future together.

Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless America.  (Applause.)

END

1:22 P.M. CDT