- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday the planned launch of U.S. astronauts from American soil next week is coming “at an important time in the life of our nation” as the country recovers from the coronavirus crisis.

During a meeting at NASA headquarters in Washington, Mr. Pence spoke by video link with astronauts Cols. Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley and called them “trailblazers of a new era.”

“We are one week and one day away from when America will return, American astronauts on American rockets from American soil to space,” Mr. Pence said. “It’s a time of great hope and encouragement.”

Col. Hurley, 53, who piloted the final U.S. space shuttle mission in 2011, said it’s “an exciting time to be in the space business.”

“I almost wish I was a young astronaut again,” he said, referring to NASA’s plans to return to the moon in four years.

A chuckling Mr. Pence replied, “I know the feeling.”

The two astronauts entered quarantine at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday in preparation for their upcoming flight to the International Space Station on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. The launch is scheduled for May 27 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

On Wednesday, the astronauts will travel to the Kennedy Space Center — the first time a crew will arrive at the launch and landing facility in preparation for a human launch from American soil since the end of the Space Shuttle Program.

Referring to the pandemic, Mr. Pence said the upcoming space mission is more proof that the U.S. has “stepped forward and met this moment as a nation.”

“It seems to me altogether fitting, as the American people come every day closer to that day that we put the coronavirus epidemic in the past, that we’re approaching such an exciting time in the life of our nation, whether it be the launch of the space force or whether it be the launch of American astronauts back to space next week,” the vice president said.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, speaking from Houston, said plans are on schedule for a U.S. flight around the moon in 2021, and for U.S. astronauts to return to the moon’s surface in 2024.

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