The time is now to return an American to the moon – and to go further than man has ever gone before.

Vice President Mike Pence delivered a message of urgency March 26 during a visit to the Rocket City for the fifth meeting of the National Space Council. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center, home of Huntsville’s storied history that took man to the moon 50 years ago, appropriately enough took center stage for a discussion about the future of space exploration, as Pence issued an edict that America return man to the moon by 2024.

“Urgency must be our watch word. Failure to achieve our goal, to return an American astronaut to the moon in the next five years is not an option,” Pence said. “As we will discuss today, this will require renewed focus and a relentless will to achieve our mission. And that’s exactly what you have in abundance in northern Alabama. Urgency has always been in the DNA of Rocket City. The men and women of Marshall Space Flight Center know exactly what it takes to be first, to be first in space, because you’ve been doing it for generations.”

The last time American astronauts set foot on the moon was in 1972, and previous estimations by NASA indicated a return would not be possible until 2028, what Pence called, “just not good enough.” The vice president cited the need for a “major course correction for NASA” and called on the space agency to redouble their efforts and to adopt new policies and a new mindset – to be leaner, more accountable and agile – as it sets bold goals in order to stay on schedule and commit to the president’s directive. Encouraging NASA to accomplish the mission by “any means necessary” Pence cited a need for accelerating the Space Launch System program and considering every available option and platform, to include giving commercial entities a seat at the table if they can deliver the technology cheaper and faster.

“Today we stand at the dawn of a new era of space exploration – an era that will bring untold new challenges and opportunities, and it will demand the best of us,” Pence said. “It will demand new ideas, renewed energies, courage and bold action.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had the opportunity to respond to Pence’s remarks during the National Space Council meeting, stating multiple times he heard the challenge “loud and clear.”

“You have given us a charge today and it is right on time,” Bridenstine said. “I want to say thank you for that vision, and the leadership. Our agency, NASA, is going to do everything in its power to meet that vision, to meet that deadline, and you have my full commitment to achieving that.”

Throughout his remarks Pence reinforced his commitment to the people of Marshall Space Flight Center, recognizing them for the role they played in putting man on the moon 50 years ago, and the role they will play in the future of human space exploration.

“The hard working men and women of Rocket City will always embody the American pioneering spirit – restless energy, urgency, national pride and impatience with anything less than the best,” Pence said. “We know that it will be here in Rocket City, where America will build a new generation of rockets that will carry American astronauts back to the moon, on to Mars, into worlds beyond. For more than 60 years Huntsville, Alabama, has built the finest rocket propulsion systems in the world, and we want to ensure it remains that way for the next 60 years.”

Following his remarks, Pence presided over the National Space Council meeting, of which he is chairman, and then toured Space Camp. Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was one of several VIPs in the audience for the vice president’s remarks and council meeting.

“America will once again astonish the world with the heights we reach, the wonders we achieve, and we will lead the world in human space exploration once again,” Pence said as he closed his remarks. “Now let’s get to work.”

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