US wants astronauts to land on Moon, NASA accepts challenge

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US Vice President Mike Pence
US Vice President Mike Pence

New Delhi : Regarding the development in space sector, the US Vice President Mike Pence has asked NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to accelerate the agency’s lunar exploration plans. He announced to speed up the mission to land astronauts within five years "by any means necessary,". The challenge was put forward during a National Space Council meeting held at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama on March 26. 

Chief administrator Bridenstine said NASA accepts the challenge to land humans on the Moon in 2024. The goal is likely to cost tens of billions of dollars and the space agency is ready to meet the upcoming challenges. 

The aim to reach the moon reflects President Donald Trump's desire to champion a bold new national objective as he mounts a re-election bid, while also seeking to counter the potential space weaponry capabilities of Russia and China.

Earlier, NASA has aimed to return astronauts to the lunar surface by the year 2028, after first putting a "Gateway" station in orbit around the moon by 2024.

The US Apollo program, NASA's forerunner to the effort at returning humans to Earth's natural satellite, tallied six manned missions to the moon between 1969 and 1972.

Till date, only two other nations have conducted "soft" landings on the moon - the former Soviet Union and China - but those were with unmanned robot vehicles.

Pence in the gathering said, "It's time for the next giant leap," alluding to the famed words spoken by astronaut Neil Armstrong upon becoming the first man to step onto the moon in 1969.

"That next giant leap is to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years by any means necessary, and to establish a permanent presence on the moon and prepare to put American astronauts on Mars," Pence said.

He added, "In order to accomplish this, NASA must transform itself into a leaner, more accountable and more agile organization."

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a Twitter post: "Challenge accepted. Now let's get to work."

Bridenstine said NASA was considering moving forward with a less powerful commercial rocket, perhaps a vehicle built by SpaceX or the Boeing-Lockheed Martin partnership United Launch Alliance, to get an uncrewed capsule into space by 2020. After Tuesday's announcement, Bridenstine said he was sure NASA could achieve a successful SLS flight by next year.

Good news is that NASA has already set its sights on the moon's south pole, a region believed to hold enough recoverable ice water for use in synthesizing additional rocket fuel.

NASA is also considering the moon as a station en route the mission to Mars, which Bridenstine has said might be successfully accomplished by the mid-2030s.