Vice President Mike Pence honors Apollo 11 ‘heroes,’ unveils Orion capsule at NASA celebration

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Vice President Mike Pence honored the “heroes” of the Apollo 11 lunar mission during a visit to Kennedy Space Center on July 20. He also unveiled NASA’s Orion crew capsule, which will transport American astronauts to the moon during the upcoming Artemis mission.

Pence spoke to an audience filled with National Space Council members, elected officials, NASA and Lockheed Martin employees, and other guests at KSC’s Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building. Second Lady Karen Pence and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine also attended the event.

Celebrating Lunar ‘Heroes’

On Saturday, the vice president addressed the group that gathered at Kennedy Space Center to commemorate Apollo 11’s historic 1969 lunar mission. During the historic mission, NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and walked on the moon 50 years ago to the day.

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Aldrin attended the event along with Armstrong’s son, Rick Armstrong. The famous astronaut stood and saluted the KSC audience as Pence paid tribute to him, Commander Neil Armstrong, and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins.

As with all groundbreaking endeavors throughout humankind’s history, advances cannot be made without brave people taking significant risks. Blasting into outer space and landing on another celestial body arguably marks one of the finest examples.

NASA Administrator Bridenstine shared a video of the vice president’s address on Twitter.

In his remarks, Pence called attention to the dangerous nature of the Apollo 11 mission and praised the heroic efforts of its crew.

“The risks for Apollo 11 were so great, and the odds were so long,” Pence said, “that many feared that even if our astronauts made it to the moon, they might not make it back.”

While flying in the Eagle lunar module “that wasn’t much bigger than a couple of telephone booths,” Pence explained that Armstrong and Aldrin faced (and conquered) multiple unforeseen challenges.

For instance, Eagle registered an unknown “1202 alarm” just minutes before the craft’s planned lunar touchdown. Thankfully, the astronauts remained calm and worked with the ground team on Earth to resolve the issue. Pence noted, “People all over the world were watching, with no idea that anything had gone wrong.”

This kind of courageous commitment to follow the game-changing mission through to its triumphant conclusion is remarkable. Astonishingly, Eagle only had 17 seconds of fuel remaining when it landed.

“True to their creed, astronauts have never liked the idea of being called heroes,” Pence explained. “Yet, for all they did and for all the risks they took…if Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins are not heroes, then there are no heroes. We honor these men today, and America will always honor our Apollo astronauts.”

Remembering Apollo 17’s Final Lunar Landing

Vice President Pence, who currently serves as chairman of the National Space Council, also acknowledged the efforts of Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt.

In 1972, Schmitt was the first scientist-astronaut to land on the moon’s surface. Notably, the mission marked NASA’s last time to the lunar body. Commander Eugene A. Cernan and Command Module Pilot Ronald E. Evans rounded out the Apollo 17 crew. The total lunar surface time for that final mission was 75 hours.

Pence thanked Schmitt, who was present at the Apollo 11 celebration, for his “courageous service.”

Apollo 17 Commander Cernan delivered an inspirational parting statement as he exited the moon on December 17, 1972. “We leave the moon as we came, and God willing, we shall soon return—with peace and hope for all mankind,” Schmitt said.

Those words carry deep meaning as NASA looks toward the future and aims to return to the moon by 2024.

Orion Spacecraft Revealed

The vice president visited NASA’s iconic Launch Complex 39A during Saturday’s anniversary festivities. The U.S. space agency’s Saturn V rocket launched the Apollo 11 mission from the legendary site a half a century ago.

Since then, private aerospace company SpaceX has completed several successful launches to the International Space Station (ISS) from the iconic launchpad. Moving forward, NASA’s spacecraft Orion will make another lunar launch from 39A. In his KSC speech, Pence announced that Orion is complete.

“Thanks to the hard work of the men and women of NASA, and American industry, the Orion crew vehicle for the Artemis 1 mission is complete and ready to begin preparations for its historic first flight,” said Pence.

Kennedy Space Center engineers notably built the Orion crew module onsite in Florida. NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans manufactured and shipped the craft’s pressure vessel to KSC. Once the vessel reached the facility, teams integrated and tested thousands of module parts and certified it for flight.

Furthermore, the European Space Agency (ESA), together with Airbus, built the spacecraft’s European Service Module in Bremen, Germany. It arrived at KSC last November and teams are working to join the crew and service modules together.

As a test, the Orion crew capsule and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will launch and travel around the moon. If all goes well, Orion will eventually carry its first human crew to the lunar body. After its moon objective is complete, the U.S. space program will plot a course to Mars.

Looking Ahead to the Next Lunar Mission

Bridenstine expressed confidence in achieving NASA’s Artemis goals at the Apollo celebration. Distinguished guests, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, looked on as the space agency leader thanked the president and vice president for their support.

“President Trump and Vice President Pence have given us a bold direction to return to the Moon by 2024 and then go forward to Mars,” said Bridenstine. “Their direction is not empty rhetoric. They have backed up their vision with the budget requests need to accomplish this objective.”

Bridenstine further explained that in Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo and the goddess of the moon. Hence, NASA named its next lunar mission Artemis. He then added, “We are well on our way to getting this done.”