mike pence

US will revisit the moon before Mars trip, Mike Pence confirms

Image credit: reuters

US Vice President Mike Pence has confirmed that his administration intends to send astronauts to the moon before launching a manned mission to Mars.

Space industry leaders say they and Nasa are building the spaceships to get there and are promising that, in five years, astronauts could be working around the moon, but not quite land there yet.

"We will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundations we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said.

Pence was speaking at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for the first meeting of the revived National Space Council since it was disbanded in 1993. So far, few details, such as cost, were mentioned in the space visions outlined at the meeting.

“It was my pleasure today to attend the first meeting of the new National Space Council,” said acting Nasa administrator Robert Lightfoot.

“The council includes government leaders from civil and military space, and the group also heard from space industry leaders. The council has historic roots in the earliest days of the Space Age, and it has been established by the president to streamline and coordinate national space policy."

“At today’s meeting [Pence] made it clear that space is a national priority. The vice president also announced a call for renewed US leadership in space – with a recommendation to the president that Nasa help lead and shape the way forward."

“Specifically, Nasa has been directed to develop a plan for an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system, returning humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations."

“The recommendation to the president would modify the existing National Space Policy to provide focus and direction to some of Nasa’s current activities and plans, and remove a previous guideline that Nasa should undertake a human mission to an asteroid as the next human spaceflight milestone beyond low-Earth orbit."

“Among new areas, we will work with industry and the international community on robotic lunar landers that explore the nature of the Moon and its resources, such as water.”

But if SpaceX founder Elon Musk gets his way, Nasa could be beaten to the punch by several years by private players.

SpaceX is planning to visit Mars in 2022 for the first time, carrying only cargo, to be followed by a manned mission in 2024, a full six years before the tentative 2030 mission to Mars date that former President Barack Obama set for the US last year. 

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