Australia will assist NASA’s Moon and Mars landing bids under a new multi-million dollar deal, inked by Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the agency’s headquarters in Washington DC.
Morrison was there on Saturday to announce A$150 million (USD$101 million) in help to NASA’s plans over the next five years. He said the deal would see the Australian Space Agency “foster the new ideas and hi-tech skilled jobs that will make Australian businesses a partner of choice to fit out NASA missions”.
'Next Stellar Chapter'
The prime minister said the investment in Australian businesses and new technologies would triple the size of Australia’s space sector to $12 billion and create around 20,000 new jobs by 2030, as well as bring new technologies to the country and boost its economy.
“We’re backing Australian businesses to the moon, and even Mars, and back,” Scott Morrison said. 'We can't wait to be part of the next stellar chapter, so beam us up.”
The Australian Space Agency was created just over one year ago to promote communications technologies and services, advance Earth observation capabilities, and develop robotics and automation on Earth and in space. Australia’s military is also poised to boost its activities in space, including by launching more satellites.
NASA is currently planning to send American astronauts to the Moon by 2024 – for the first time since the famous Apollo 11 mission of 1969 – as part of President Trump’s push for space exploration.
Trump Says Moon is Not the Main Focus
Speaking to reporters at a joint conference with Morrison on Saturday, Donald Trump said the Moon was not the limit.
“We’re stopping at the moon,” he said. “The moon is actually a launching pad. That’s why we’re stopping at the moon. I said, ‘hey, we’ve already done the moon. That’s not so exciting’. They said, ‘no, sir, it’s a launching pad for Mars’. So we’ll be doing the moon but we’ll really be doing Mars.”
NASA wants to land the first astronauts on Mars by 2033. The agency’s robots have been on the planet for decades, but such an endeavour is expected to pose many dangers to humans. The risks posed by space-borne radiation during the months-long trip to and on Mars have already prompted NASA to start working on protective equipment and shielding materials for spacecraft.
At the same time, private projects such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the now-bankrupt Mars One are playing with the idea of colonising the red planet. Potential settlers would face extreme challenges in this arid world, which has almost no atmosphere and liquid water, so some experts say the most feasible solution would be to hide underground in order to survive.