During a visit to NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, US Vice President Mike Pence announced a new goal for the space agency set by President Donald Trump — to launch a new manned landing mission to the Moon in a matter of five years. The goal itself is not new, but previously NASA was aiming to deploy a "Gateway" station to the Moon's orbit by 2024 and send astronauts to the lunar surface four years later, in 2028.
Now the deadline has been revised, with the plan being to send a manned mission in 2024. NASA's head, Jim Bridenstine, was quick to react to the change.
"Challenge accepted. Now let's get to work", he wrote on Twitter.
Pence called the new planned lunar mission a "next giant leap" in an apparent reference to the famous line by Neil Armstrong. He also announced the goal of establishing a constant US presence on the Moon as a basis for future NASA missions to Mars.
In total, nine private companies, such as Lockheed Martin, will be competing for a lucrative contract to help NASA meet POTUS' plans.
The previous American lunar project, the Apollo programme, was active between 1961 and 1972 and resulted in a total of six manned landings on the moon and 12 astronauts in total visiting Earth's satellite. The programme was terminated earlier than expected due to budget cuts, but no other country has so far repeated its success in sending astronauts to the Moon. The Soviet Union and China have, however, sent unmanned landers to Earth's satellite.
US President Donald Trump recently announced the creation of a "Space Force" as a separate military branch. The push to create a US space force was prompted by efforts of potential adversaries developing space-based military capabilities, according to the directive that established the new branch. Trump has also allocated 15% more money for space exploration, raising the sum to $14.1 billion in the latest proposed budget.