Vice President Mike Pence, chair of the National Space Council, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine got a glimpse Feb. 19 into how NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., is at the forefront of space exploration and has been vital to missions from Apollo to Artemis.
“It’s an honor to be among men and women who will play a decisive role when in four years’ time we return American astronauts to the Moon and make sure the first women and the next man on the moon will be Americans,” Pence told employees during his remarks.
The visit from the vice president and NASA administrator showcased Langley’s contributions to the Artemis program on the heels of the message that the president’s 2020 budget amendment supports accelerated plans to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024.
“We have the highest budget request in the history of NASA on the table right now,” Bridenstine said. “Having the vision is one thing but giving us the resources to achieve it is another.”
It was also a celebration of African American History Month, as Pence recognized Langley’s hidden and modern figures including Katherine Johnson, represented by daughters Joylette Hylick and Katherine Moore; Christine Darden; Vanessa Wyche, deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center; and astronaut Stephanie Wilson.
“It’s an honor to be here at Langley Research Center, walking through wind tunnels, talking about flights to the Moon and Mars, seeing the technology come together — it’s been truly inspiring,” Pence said. “You’ve led the nation and the world in your eagle-eyed mission, and approached and broke the sound barrier and the color barrier as well, and all of America celebrates. You’ve led us to dominance in the sky and space and toward a more perfect union.”
Langley plays a critical role in NASA’s plans for deep space with Artemis and human exploration of Mars.
“We’re proud of the work we do every day,” said Clayton Turner, Langley’s center director. “NASA makes the impossible possible and we’re a proud member of the NASA family.”
The most powerful rocket NASA has ever built, the Space Launch System, was thoroughly tested in Langley’s wind tunnels.
“The first step in Artemis is having to get from the ground to space. We have a suite of facilities that cover that entire spectrum, from low speed up to 10 times the speed of sound,” said Frank Quinto, facility manager of the 14-by 22-Foot Subsonic Tunnel, during the tour for Pence and Bridenstine.
Langley also leads the development of the Launch Abort System for the Orion spacecraft and has tested Orion and commercial crew modules from SpaceX and Boeing at the Landing and Impact Research Facility.
Researchers are working on concepts and technologies to land safely on the Moon and Mars. They’re also working with commercial partners to make in-space assembly and manufacturing, an important facet of a sustainable presence on the Moon, a reality.
“Think of all those things our Artemis crews will need when they arrive – solar array panels for power, habitats, landing pads, communication poles. We are developing the capabilities to build, to assemble, to offload from the landers everything we need to sustain our crew on the surface of the Moon,” said Deborah Tomek, acting director of space technology and exploration at Langley.
Pence touted Langley’s legacy, citing John Houbolt and his lunar orbit rendezvous mission concept, astronaut training facilities and the hidden figures who made Apollo a success. Langley then went on to lead the Viking Project, landing on Mars for the first time, and contributed to the development of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station, which marks 20 years of continuous human habitation later this year.
“Innovation never happens in a vacuum, Langley’s been proving that for more than a century,” he said. “I’m here today to encourage you to bring your renewed energy to our new mission. We’re going to the Moon and on to Mars and Langley Research Center is going to get us there. Thank you for what all of you are doing for this renewed mission for American leadership in space. Keep up the great work, we’re going and we’re counting on all of you.”