Vice President Mike Pence has called on NASA to accelerate its human spaceflight efforts with the aim of returning to the Moon by 2024.
“At the direction of the President of the United States, it is the stated policy of this administration and the United States of America to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years,” said Pence.
The Vice President shared the administration’s ambitious goal for NASA at a meeting of the National Space Council on March 26 in Huntsville, Alabama. In addition to the proposed timeline, he also indicated that the agency should look to target the lunar south pole, an area of the Moon that has been identified as being a location rich in scientific and economic value.
“To reach the moon in the next five years we must select our destinations now. NASA already knows that the lunar south pole holds great scientific, economic and strategic value, but now it’s time to commit to go there,” he said. “I know NASA is ready for the challenge of moving forward to the Moon, this time to stay.”
In order to realise the country’s goal of returning to the moon, the Vice President called for the formation of a new directorate, the Moon to Mars Mission Directorate. The directorate would be responsible for spearheading all aspects of the mission from the continued development of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, to the “formulation and execution of exploration development activities.”
Many commentators have described the administration’s goal of returning to the moon by 2024 as the most ambitious US space policy since President John F Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the Moon” speech in 1962. However, many have also expressed doubt that NASA will receive the widespread support and massive budget increases required to pull it off.