NASA is heading back to the moon, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence confirmed this week.
Speaking at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Thursday, Pence outlined the plan to send humans back to the moon.
The aim is to send astronauts to a mini space station in lunar orbit, which could be in use as early as 2024.
In future, this orbiting lunar HQ could act as a springboard for trips to the lunar surface as well as future missions to Mars and beyond.
"While our sights are once again set on our lunar neighbour, this time we’re not content with just leaving behind footprints – or even to leave at all," said Pence.
He confirmed that the time is right to "establish a permanent presence around and on the moon".
Humans first touched down on the moon when the Apollo 11 mission landed nearly 50 years ago, on 20 July 1969.
However, no one has returned since Apollo 17, the final crewed Apollo lunar mission, was completed in December 1972.
NASA has previously outlined plans for the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a small space station designed to orbit the moon.
The orbiting moon base would act as a jumping off point for visiting the lunar surface, as well as a springboard for future missions to deep space and Mars. It could also pave the way for a more permanent base on the lunar surface.
Last year, NASA began working with manufacturers to design the gateway’s propulsion system while the extra $500 million needed to complete the project is secured.
"Our administration’s working tirelessly to put an American crew aboard the Lunar Orbital Platform before the end of 2024," said Pence.
"It is now the official policy of the United States of America that we will return to the moon, put Americans on Mars, and once again explore the farthest depths of outer space."
The lunar gateway will be essential if NASA is to achieve the ambitious spaceflight goals set out in ‘Space Policy Directive 1’ which was signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in December 2017.
The directive outlines plans for the return to the moon and for sending astronauts to Mars.
Scientists recently discovered ice at the moon’s poles, raising hopes that humans could establish a lunar base.
The researchers believe that there’s at least a few millimetres of ice present which could potentially be used as a resource for future expeditions or even long-term stays on the moon.
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