Vice President Mike Pence made a visit to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL) in Pasadena, California, last Saturday (April 28) to tour the facility and check out the preparations for NASA's newest Mars mission.
Pence, who is the chair of the National Space Council, arrived one week before the agency's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander is scheduled to launch, according to a recentstatement by the space agency. The InSight mission is slated to take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California this Saturday (May 5) and will begin looking for tectonic activity on Mars as early as November.
Saturday's tour of JPL was one ofseveral stops the vice president made to the Southland — the region in California between Los Angeles and the U.S.-Mexico border — over the weekend, according to NBC San Diego. JPL Director Michael Watkins led Pence; his wife, Karen; and their daughter Charlotte on a private tour of several facilities, including the mission control building and the "Mars Yard," an outdoor facility that mimics the Martian terrain. They also stopped by the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, where the Mars 2020 rover is currently being put together. [In Photos: VP Mike Pence Tours Mars Yard & More at NASA's JPL]
InSight isn't the only mission launching this month; JPL's GRACE-FO satellite is scheduled to take off on May 19 and will pick up from the 15-year GRACE mission to continue monitoring how melting polar ice caps are contributing to rising sea levels.
The Pence family's afternoon visit was also met with a group of about adozen protestors, who gathered outside JPL's entrance to criticize the administration's stance on climate change, according to a report by CBS Los Angeles.
Criticism of the Trump administration's stance on climate change has included the omission of "climate change" and "sea-level rise"from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's strategic plan for 2018 through 2022, President Donald Trump's choice to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement and Pence's remarks calling climate change an argument born of partisan politics.
The California Institute of Technology manages JPL for NASA. JPL leads the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission, which brought the Curiosity rover to Mars in 2012. JPL monitored the Cassini mission to Saturn, which ended with a fiery plunge into the ringed planet in September, and still manages the Voyager probes travelling billions of miles away Earth.