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May 2, 2018
 

Vice president visits JPL, previews NASA’s next Mars mission

Vice President Mike Pence, second from right, is shown the Mars 2020 spacecraft descent stage from inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility by JPL Director Michael Watkins, to the Vice President’s left, and NASA Mars Exploration Manager Li Fuk at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, April 28, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. Mars 2020 is a Mars rover mission by NASA’s Mars Exploration Program with a planned launch in 2020.

A week before NASA launches its next mission to Mars, Vice President Mike Pence toured April 28, the birthplace of numerous past, present and future space missions at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The afternoon visit by the Vice President, his wife, Karen, and daughter Charlotte, included a stop in JPL’s Mission Control, where engineers will communicate with NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight). The Mars lander is scheduled to launch May 5, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. InSight will be the first interplanetary mission ever to launch from the West Coast, and is the first-ever mission to study the interior of Mars.

The Mission Control building, a National Historic Landmark, has served as a hub for communications with countless spacecraft since 1964, including some of NASA’s Apollo Moon missions, the twin Voyager spacecraft at the edge of our solar system, and the Cassini mission to Saturn. From here, Charlotte Pence had an opportunity to send commands giving the Mars Curiosity rover a day’s worth of science activities. The signal took about seven minutes to travel the 80 million miles to reach Curiosity, which has been roaming the Red Planet for almost six years.

Vice President Mike Pence, fifth from left, joined by his wife Karen Pence, left, and daughter Charlotte Pence, second from left, view the Vehicle System Test Bed (VSTB) rover in the Mars Yard during a tour of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, April 28, 2018 in Pasadena, Calif. NASA Mars Exploration Manager Li Fuk, third from left, JPL Director Michael Watkins, Mars Curiosity Engineering Operations Team Chief Megan Lin, and MSL Engineer Sean McGill, right, helped explain to the Vice President and his family how they use these test rovers.

“We were honored to show the Vice President, who has a strong commitment to space exploration, some of our special sites and space missions,” said JPL Director Michael Watkins. “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.”

The tour included a stop at the JPL Mars Yard, an outdoor test facility that simulates the Martian landscape. There, the Pence family tried their hands at maneuvering a test Mars rover. They also visited the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, where the Mars 2020 mission hardware is being assembled. Mars 2020 will search for signs of habitability in Mars’ ancient past and signs of past microbial life.

The Vice President, who chairs the National Space Council, was accompanied on the tour by Watkins, 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. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.




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