NASA: Mike Pence Loves Space, but Does He Believe in Science?

7-6-17 Mike Pence NASA
Vice President Mike Pence takes a group selfie with kids during an event where NASA introduced 12 new astronaut candidates at the Johnson Space Center in Houston on June 7. Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence has a deep-seated love for space, at least by his own account, and in his new role as vice president he's like a kid in celestial candy shop. The biggest prize so far has been the National Space Council, which Trump officially relaunched last week with an executive order and which Pence will chair.

"I'm honored and frankly enthusiastic about the role @POTUS has asked me to play in renewing our nation's commitment to space," Pence tweeted Friday after the announcement.

A National Aeronautics and Space Council was first formed under President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958 and existed until 1973. The National Space Council was formed in 1989 but ceased operations in 1993. Pence and his colleagues in the resurrected group will review U.S. space policy; develop a strategy and recommendations for national space activities, policies and issues; advise on international space activities; and "facilitate the resolution of differences concerning major space and space-related policy matters," according to the executive order that revived the National Space Council.

Exactly a week after Trump formally signed the order, Pence is already beginning to make good on his space-related responsibilities. On Thursday, he visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, arriving on Air Force Two at noon.

"You know, I caught space fever as a little boy in a small town in southern Indiana," Pence said in his remarks at the Johnson Space Center in Houston last month for NASA's announcement of a new astronaut class. "Some of the most precious memories of my youth were gathered around the television, watching the black and white images of your predecessors expanding the horizons of human knowledge with American leadership and American courage."

He added, "As a member of Congress, I asked to serve on the NASA subcommittee and had the privilege, along with my wife and children, to attend several shuttle launches at the Kennedy Space Center."

Pence returned to Kennedy on Thursday to address the workforce in the Vehicle Assembly Building, to take a tour to learn about how it functions as a spaceport for government and commercial clients, and to get updates on NASA's progress to send humans past the moon and eventually to Mars.

"I have no doubt that my son, who is now a Marine Corps aviator, was inspired as he sat in the grandstands and watched with awe as America's heroic astronauts hurtled into the heavens," he said in his early-June speech. "I said at the time that to see the sights and sounds of a launch at Cape Canaveral was like seeing the Earth giving birth to a piece of the sun and sending it home."

With his hardly scientific "Earth giving birth" comment, Pence highlighted the irony of his love for space, considering his track record on science. Back in 2009, Pence had the following exchange on Hardball With Chris Matthews:

Matthews: OK, you want to educate the American people about science and its relevance today. Do you believe in evolution, sir?

Pence: Do I believe in evolution? I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the Earth, the seas and all that's in them.

Matthews: Right. But do you believe in evolution as the way he did it?

Pence: The means, Chris, that he used to do that I can't say. But I do believe in that fundamental truth.

Pence has also said he believes that "someday scientists will come to see that only the theory of intelligent design provides an even remotely rational explanation for the known universe."

As the science site IFLScience puts it, "This man is America's vice president, and he's certainly a curious human being. Being a proponent of creationism and someone who until recently didn't think smoking kills people, he's not exactly a fan of science—which is why it's so surprising he's been tasked with heading the National Space Council."

Pence's love for space might be authentic, but in many ways his enthusiasm for space exploration is counterintuitive. NASA explains that "human space exploration helps to address fundamental questions about our place in the universe and the history of our solar system." And its research and answers have the potential to make Pence as uncomfortable as he seemed when Matthews cornered him about evolution.