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Vice President Mike Pence sits in the cockpit of Stratolaunch’s mammoth airplane in Mojave, Calif. (Stratolaunch Systems Photo)

Vice President Mike Pence made Mojave, Calif., the latest stop on his nationwide tour of spaceship development sites today, with visits to Virgin Galactic and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch hangar.

Pence was accompanied by his wife, Karen, as well as other government officials such as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, whose district includes Mojave.

In his capacity as chairman of the reinstituted National Space Council, Pence has previously visited NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and Johnson Space Center in Texas.

Today the vice president met with commercial space executives and paid tribute to Mojave, where the Allen-financed SpaceShipOne rocket plane made history back in 2004.

“Mojave is very much a part of the infrastructure of American space exploration,” quoted Pence as saying.

Pence received briefings about Virgin Orbit’s plans for satellite launches, Virgin Galactic’s plans to take passengers on suborbital space flights, and Stratolaunch’s plans to launch payloads into orbit from the world’s biggest airplane.

The trip afforded opportunities for photo ops galore, featuring Virgin Galactic’s flight simulator and SpaceShipTwo as well as Stratolaunch’s plane:

During his brief California tour, Pence also stopped by an industrial machine shop in a Sacramento suburb to tout the White House’s tax plan and attended GOP fundraising events, according to the Los Angeles Times.

After the Mojave visit, Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said the group had “a rich discussion about the unique benefits of air launch.”

“We showcased the progress we’re making toward first flight and discussed Stratolaunch’s value as a responsive and resilient launch platform for launch missions ranging from commercial applications to critical national security needs,” Floyd said in a blog posting. “We also talked about how NASA and the Department of Defense can utilize small satellites and small launch capabilities for flexible, rapid deployments and stronger resiliency in space.”

Floyd said he was “encouraged by the positive response” he and his Stratolaunch team have been receiving from public officials.

Stratolaunch’s mammoth, twin-fuselage airplane is currently in the midst of ground testing, with the aim of beginning in-flight launches by 2020.

Stratolaunch plane
Stratolaunch’s twin-fuselage plane is in the midst of ground tests. (Stratolaunch Systems Photo)

Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, is conducting gliding tests of its second SpaceShipTwo, dubbed VSS Unity, and could begin rocket-powered test flights by the end of the year.

Business Insider Nordic quoted Virgin founder Richard Branson as saying “we are hopefully about three months before we are in space, maybe six months before I’m in space.”

About 700 people have signed up for trips on SpaceShipTwo, paying as much as $250,000 for a seat.

During last week’s visit to Helsinki, Finland, Branson also said Virgin Galactic was “in the best position in the world” to provide rocket-powered, point-to-point air travel on Earth. Suborbital point-to-point travel is one of the markets that SpaceX founder Elon Musk hopes to enter with his yet-to-be-built BFR spaceship.

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