VP Mike Pence: ‘We will put American boots on the face of Mars’

FLORIDA — Vice President Mike Pence vowed Thursday that the United States will send astronauts to the moon and Mars, setting new goals for American space exploration under the Trump administration.

“Here from this bridge to space, our nation will return to the moon and we will put American boots on the face of Mars,” said Pence, delivering remarks to NASA employees at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Pence applauded the space organization’s efforts toward “making science fiction ‘science fact,'” and reaffirmed President Donald Trump’s commitment to NASA’s mission of exploration and discovery.

“The American space program has a champion in the President of the United States,” Pence said, adding that the White House plans to “usher in a new era” of American space leadership.

Pence also said space is vital to American national security interests, promising: “I can assure you that under President Donald Trump, American security will be as dominant in the heavens as we are here on Earth.”

Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, Reps. Bill Posey and Ron DeSantis, state Attorney General Pam Bondi and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam were in attendance at Thursday’s event.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for more details Thursday afternoon.

Last Friday, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to revive the National Space Council, which was originally established in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush, but was discontinued in 1993.

Pence, who is the new chair of the National Space Council, pledged to reconvene the council in the coming months, and plans on “holding the first meeting of the National Space Council before the summer is out.” Pence added that the council will bring together experts from government agencies, the military, private industries and academic institutions to enhance the Trump administration’s space policy.

In a press release last Friday, acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot praised the Trump administration for reviving the National Space Council and supporting NASA’s space exploration efforts.

“The establishment of the council is another demonstration of the Trump administration’s deep interest in our work, and a testament to the importance of space exploration to our economy, our nation, and the planet as a whole,” Lightfoot said.

President Trump has touted the future of space exploration in the past, even saying in his inaugural address in January that the US is “ready to unlock the mysteries of space.”

In March, President Trump signed a bill authorizing funding for NASA’s space operations, aeronautics, technology and education programs for 2017.

However, calls for the exploration of Mars are not new to the Trump administration.

In an op-ed published on CNN last fall, outgoing President Barack Obama set a “clear goal” to send humans to Mars by the 2030s and to have them return to Earth safely, “with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time.”

In 2004, President George W. Bush also announced an ambitious plan to return to the moon by 2020, with hopes of allocating enough NASA resources to reach Mars in the future.