NASA is staking a claim as the world’s leading space agency with an ambitious new project to return to the Moon.
Its astronauts will touch down on Earth’s rocky neighbour within the next five years, according to US Vice President Mike Pence.
US Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the fifth meeting of the National Space Council on Tuesday[/caption]
That means Nasa’s next manned lunar mission will come by 2024 – a full decade ahead of China, which has tentative plans to land its astronauts on the moon in 2036.
Speaking on Tuesday at the fifth meeting of the National Space Council, Pence outlined Nasa’s plans to put man on the moon for the first time in 50 years.
“Just as the United States was the first to reach the moon in the 20th century, so too, we’ll be the first nation to return astronauts to the moon in the 21st century,” he told an audience at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Pence added that he was speaking on behalf of Donald Trump, who has pushed hard to restore America’s space exploration program to its former glory.
The second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, as photographed in 1969 by the first, Neil Armstrong. Armstrong is reflected in Aldrin’s visor[/caption]
He said: “I’m here on the president’s behalf to tell the men and women of the Marshall Space Flight Centre and the American people, that [the US] will return to the moon within the next five years.”
Nasa top boss Jim Bridenstine, appointed by Trump, later accepted the challenge, calling it “right on time.”
“Nasa is going to do everything in its power to meet that deadline,” Bridenstine said.
The space agency had previously set a deadline of 2022 to send humans back to the Moon.
The historic landing will form part of a series of missions to send unmanned probes and people to Earth’s natural satellite.
On its website, Nasa says: “The first mission in 2020 will test the new spacecraft systems flying together for the first time, without crew.
“The second flight is targeted for 2022 to take people for a flight test around the Moon.”
By 2028, Nasa wants to build an orbiting “lunar gateway” base from which it can launch rocket flights to Mars and beyond.
It’s been 46 years since humans last set foot on the Moon, with Nasa’s Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan the last to step off the lunar surface in December 1972.
A total of twelve men have landed on Earth’s rocky neighbour. This number could skyrocket if Nasa’s “lunar gateway” plans come to fruition.
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