Vice President Mike Pence wrapped up a fundraising tour of California Tuesday with two stops in Kern County.
He made a lunchtime visit to a private, paid event at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace in Bakersfield and then hopped over to the Mojave Air and Space Port to tour the hangars for Virgin Galactic and Stratolauch Systems.
Pence and his wife Karen, with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Congressmen David Valadao, Jeff Denham and Steve Knight along for the ride, landed in Air Force 2 at the Space Port just before 1:50 p.m.
Pence, his wife and McCarthy waved from the door of the plane and then came down to shake the hands of Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Karina Drees and other local officials before heading into the airport offices.
Drees gave the assembled dignitaries a brief presentation about the airport and cheered the re-establishment of the National Space Council by President Trump.
Pence chairs the space policy organization, which had its first meeting last week.
At that meeting, according to The New York Times, Pence committed to returning American astronauts to the moon.
Drees was at that meeting.
“I heard you speak about watching the moon landing and how that inspired you,” she said. “The launch of the Space Shuttle was what inspired my generation.”
The Challenger disaster, Drees said, dampened the passion for space flight in the U.S.
“This is where we get that fire back,” she said.
Private companies have a higher tolerance for risk than the government does, Drees said.
And Mojave is the only place where those private space companies can take their dream from concept to full operation.
Pence thanked her for welcoming him to Mojave and said the Trump administration is excited to be partnering with private space exploration companies.
“I’m very much looking forward to this final stop on our trip through California,” he said.
Commercial space exploration was a big focus of the National Space Council’s first meeting, Pence said.
“Mojave is very much a part of the infrastructure of American space exploration,” he said.
Once the briefing was done, the vice president and his entourage jumped into a large motorcade and headed out to visit two of the biggest space businesses at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
At the Virgin hangar Pence got a presentation from Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart about his company's plan to launch small satellites into orbit from beneath the wing of a 747 airplane.
He then walked under Virgin Galactic’s White Knight 2 — the air launch vehicle for SpaceShip 2, the company’s passenger space vehicle.
Michael Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, told the vice president that more than 600 people have already signed up to ride Spaceship 2 into low-Earth orbit.
That’s more people, he said, than have ever been into space before now.
Pence then got a look at Space Ship 2, moving around the large hangar shaking hands and chatting with company employees.
Then the motorcade saddled up again for a ride down the road to Stratolaunch systems.
There Pence went inside the massive hangar built to house the plane with the world’s largest wingspan.
Shortly after Pence went inside, the massive roll-up hangar doors were raised and the media and others outside the venue were treated to a view of the Stratolaunch's massive 385-foot wingspan.
Like Virgin Orbit the space plane is being designed to fly to high altitudes, drop a rocket and have that rocket punch a commercial payload into Earth’s orbit.
Pence spent time talking and learning about the air-launch system before posing for a photo in front of the massive plane and then hopping back into the motorcade for the jaunt back to Air Force 2.
He boarded the plane at around 3:45 p.m. and prepared for the trip back to Washington, D.C.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Pence's swing through California was designed to benefit the coffers of national political action committees — including one run by McCarthy — as well as the National Republican Congressional Committee and the accounts of several Congressmen including McCarthy, Valadao, Knight and Denham.
Knight, Denham and Valadao have all been targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 2018 election.