After months of hinting, Vice President Mike Pence finally made it clear today that the Trump administration will direct NASA to land humans on the Moon and establish a more permanent presence on the lunar surface.
Unlike previous government-run efforts at space exploration in the past, Pence said, the new goal will be to "look beyond the halls of government" and partner with private USA space exploration companies.
"We will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundations we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond", he said to massive applause.
There's no indication of when NASA may put people back on the moon, nor whether there are any concrete plans in place to make this a reality.More news: Iraqi forces recapture Hawijah in 2nd phase of anti-IS offensive
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For close observers of space policy, a likely human return to the Moon has been one of the worst-kept secrets of the new Trump administration. The representatives of these companies discussed how their organizations could best serve NASA in achieving its goals, either by providing rockets and services or by building new space vehicles.
The council will hear testimonial from expert witnesses who represent the sectors of the space industry: Civil Space, Commercial Space, and National Security Space. The council will aid the Trump administration in developing its "long-range strategic goals" related to NASA and the nation's space efforts. "And we will once again astonish the world as we boldly go to meet our future in the skies and in the stars".
Now, Pence says, is the time to recognize that 'in the absence of American leadership, other nations have seized the opportunity to stake their claim in the infinite frontier'. On Thursday the council will hold its first meeting in almost 25 years, and as its chairman, I will deliver a simple message: America will lead in space again.
'Rather than lead in space, too often, we have chosen to drift. In addition, he noted, the country has had to pay Russian Federation to ferry US astronauts to the International Space Station since the space shuttle retired in 2011. "And, as we learned 60 years ago, when we drift, we fall behind".