The Trump administration wants NASA to land humans on the Moon and establish a presence on the lunar surface before sending astronauts to the Red Planet and beyond, US Vice President Mike Pence has said.
Pence made the administration’s intentions known during the inaugural meeting of the National Space Council – a newly resurrected executive group aimed at guiding the US space agenda, The Verge reported on Thursday.
“We will return NASA astronauts to the Moon — not only to leave behind footprints and flags but to build the foundation, we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” he told reporters at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
Pence made it clear that space is a national priority, acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement after the first meeting of the Council.
“The Vice President also announced a call for renewed US leadership in space – with a recommendation to the President that NASA help leads and shape the way forward,” Lightfoot said.
“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,” Lightfoot added.
The Council acknowledged the strategic importance of cis-lunar space — the region around the Moon – which will serve as a proving ground for missions to Mars and beyond, Lightfoot added.
The Council, chaired by Pence includes government leaders from civil and military space, and the group also heard from space industry leaders.
The recommendation to the President would remove a previous guideline that NASA should undertake a human mission to an asteroid as the next human spaceflight milestone beyond low-Earth orbit, Lightfoot added.
NASA in late September entered into an agreement with Russian space agency Roscosmos to give shape to the “deep-space gateway” concept, a mission architecture designed to send astronauts into cis-lunar space, or lunar orbit.
NASA plans to expand human presence in the solar system starting in the vicinity of the Moon using its new deep space exploration transportation systems, the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft.
The space station partners are working to identify common exploration objectives and possible missions for the 2020s, including the gateway concept, NASA said.
NASA and Roscosmos already work together with other space agencies around the world to run research projects aboard the International Space Station.
NASA plans to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.
President Donald Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama did not want NASA to choose the Moon as a return destination.
“We’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow,” Obama said.