NASA invited to White House to present coronavirus projects

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WASHINGTON — A day after discussing the agency’s coronavirus relief work for the media, NASA took those projects to the White House for a presentation to President Donald Trump.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine appeared in the Cabinet Room at the White House April 24 with other NASA officials and President Trump. On display were a ventilator, breathing helmet and sterilizing system that the agency discussed in a media briefing the day before.

“A lot of our workforce has been staying at home, as has been the guidance,” Bridenstine said at the beginning of the presentation, which lasted less than ten minutes. “The question is, what do you do with rocket scientists when they stay at home? Well, what they do is build amazing things.”

Bridenstine and Dave Gallagher, associate director for strategic integration at JPL, offered brief descriptions about the three projects. Trump asked a few questions about each before the event ended and press were ushered out of the room.

The brief event focused on the agency efforts to support coronavirus relief efforts, and not space policy. Trump, at the beginning of the event, claimed he “reinvigorated” NASA, a variation on comments he has made in the past about boosting the agency, even though many of its current high-profile projects, from commercial crew to the Space Launch System and Orion, started prior to Trump taking office.

Trump seemed most engaged, though, when Bridenstine mentioned that the positive pressure helmet breathing system on display was being developed in cooperation with Virgin Galactic, a commercial suborbital spaceflight company.

“What’s the level of safety of that?” Trump asked after Bridenstine described Virgin’s suborbital spaceflight system.

“I think it’s very safe, and you ask them they’ll tell you it’s very safe,” Bridenstine responded.

“Would you do it?” Trump asked Bridenstine a moment later.

“I would, absolutely, do it,” Bridenstine responded. “Are you kidding? In a heartbeat.”

“I’ll pass,” Trump said.