VP Pence Speech Met by Protests at IAC 2019 Space Conference

WASHINGTON. — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spoke today (Oct. 21) to kick off a prestigious international space conference, but not everyone in attendance was pleased to see him.

Attendees concerned about his presence drafted an open letter calling on conference organizers to disinvite Pence because of his political and social views. More than 200 people signed onto the letter, although it is unclear what proportion of them are attendees of the 70th International Astronautical Congress, which is being held here this week. The letter, which you can read here, also called for attendees to walk out of Pence's speech, although it recognized that not everyone opposed to his invitation would be able to do so.

"While some might claim that Pence is simply performing his perfunctory role as Chair of the National Space Council," the letter states, "the performance of his duties with respect to space exploration is not separable from the performance of his other duties as Vice President: namely, carrying out administration policies that erode or strip members of the space community of their human rights."

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Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the opening ceremony of the 70th annual International Astronautical Congress in Washington, on Oct. 21, 2019.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the opening ceremony of the 70th annual International Astronautical Congress in Washington, on Oct. 21, 2019. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Conference leaders confirmed that Pence was invited on account of his National Space Council role. International Astronautical Federation president Jean-Yves Le Gall said during a news conference held on Oct. 19 that the organization is dedicated to fostering diversity.

Dan Dumbacher, executive director of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a co-host of the conference, concurred. "AIAA values diversity and inclusion. It is one of our prime efforts in the institute," he told Space News. "We value all the voices. Vice President Pence is a voice, and there are other voices, and we want all the voices here."

The letter protesting Pence's appearance also cites his anti-LGBTQ+ actions and his personal policy of refusing to be alone with any woman who is not his wife. The letter asserts that giving Pence a platform, particularly one as distinguished as the opening ceremony, suggests that the International Astronautical Federation, which is hosting the event, condones his beliefs.

"We ask the organizers of the IAC: What message are you sending to the most marginalized members who attend this event — many of whom are connected to communities and institutions that have long struggled to find and maintain diverse representation?" the letter continues. "When you choose such a model of misogyny, racism, xeno-, trans- and homophobia to set the tone for this entire event, how do you expect to grow and foster talent in the space sciences?"

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Meghan Bartels
Senior Writer

Meghan is a senior writer at Space.com and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.