Trump Administration sets goal to put Americans back on the moon in 5 years – National



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US Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday announced an accelerated goal of bringing Americans back to the moon within five years "by any means necessary," and NASA's top authority immediately accepted the challenge.

Pence, presiding over a meeting of the National Space Council at NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, borrowed from the Cold War era vocabulary by stating, "We're in a space race today, just like we were in the 1960s."

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Setting such an ambitious target – likely to cost tens of billions of dollars – comes as NASA fought with the help of private partners to resume US space missions for the first time since the end of the program in 2011.

The effort to reach the moon reflects President Donald Trump's desire to defend a new and daring national goal as he fights for re-election as he seeks to combat the potential space weapons capabilities of Russia and China.

NASA had already aimed to return the astronauts to the lunar surface by the year 2028, after placing a Gateway station in orbit around the moon in 2024.

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The American Apollo program, a precursor to NASA's effort to return humans to Earth's natural satellite, recorded six manned missions on the Moon between 1969 and 1972.

So far, only two other nations have made "light" landings on the Moon – the former Soviet Union and China – but those were with unmanned robotic vehicles.

Echoes of Armstrong

"It's time for the next giant leap," said Pence, alluding to the famous words spoken by astronaut Neil Armstrong as he became the first man to step on the moon in 1969.

"This next giant step is to return the American astronauts to the moon over the next five years by any means necessary, and establish a permanent presence on the moon and prepare to place American astronauts on Mars," Pence said.

He added, "To achieve this, NASA must become a leaner, more responsive, and more agile organization."

Pence's comments caused some initial confusion about whether a "return" to the moon necessarily meant landing astronauts on the moon or putting them in lunar orbit until 2024. But NASA officials later clarified a landing within five years was, in fact, the declared objective.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, said in a Twitter post: "Challenge accepted. Now let's get to work.

Testifying before a Senate committee two weeks ago, Bridenstine said NASA is two years away from launching its next major rocket and capsule – the Space Launch System, or SLS, designed to carry crews and cargo beyond Earth's orbit.

Boeing Co. is the leading supplier of SLS rocket engines.

WATCH: February 28 – Canada officially joins next lunar mission led by NASA





Bridenstine said Nasa is planning to move ahead with a less powerful commercial rocket, perhaps a vehicle built by SpaceX or Boeing-Lockheed Martin's partner the United Launch Alliance, to put a capsule into space by 2020. Following Tuesday's announcement Bridenstine said he was sure. NASA can get a successful SLS flight until next year.

In November, NASA named nine American companies, including Lockheed Martin Corp, which would compete for funding under the space agency's renewed public-private partnership to develop technology to exploit the lunar surface.

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NASA is already eyeing the south pole of the moon, a region believed to have enough ice water to be used in synthesizing additional rocket fuel.

NASA also sees the Moon as a way station on its way to an eventual manned mission to Mars, which Bridenstine said could be held in the mid-2030s.

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