The Trump administration will direct NASA to land humans on the Moon and establish 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 in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, as well as a speech he gave 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 U.S. leadership in space – with a recommendation to the president that NASA help lead 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.