Americans will return to the moon by 2024, Vice President Mike Pence announced at a meeting of the National Space Council on Tuesday.
“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,” Pence said.
The vice president also said the ambitious target — four years earlier than NASA’s current schedule for a moon landing — would be met “by any means necessary.”
“It’s time for the next giant leap,” he said, echoing the famous words of astronaut Neil Armstrong who became the first man to step foot on the moon almost 50 years ago. “That next giant leap is to return American astronauts to the moon [by 2024] … and to establish a permanent presence on the moon and prepare to put American astronauts on Mars.”
Noting China’s and Russia’s recent space advancements, Pence added that the U.S. was currently in a “space race.”
“It’s not just competition against our adversaries,” Pence said. “We’re also racing against our worst enemy ― complacency.”
The vice president did not explain, however, how the administration plans to reach this goal without a significant acceleration in spending. Although NASA’s $21.5 billion 2019 budget is the largest it’s been in years, the administration has proposed reducing it to $21 billion next year with subsequent yearly increases of just 1 percent, The New York Times reported.
The Trump administration has also proposed slashing the funding to NASA’s Space Launch System, an indispensable part of the agency’s moon landing plans.
Still, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine expressed confidence on Tuesday that the agency could meet the new 2024 target:
Lockheed Martin, one of the main contractors working with NASA to get humans back on the moon, said they were similarly optimistic.
“Lockheed Martin fully supports accelerating NASA’s goal of landing humans on the surface of the Moon,” the aerospace company said in a statement following Pence’s announcement, according to Space News. “With the right level of commitment, urgency and resources, humans could walk on the surface by 2024.”
The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, an industry group whose members include several NASA contractors, was more cautious in its response.
“Though we support the focus of this White House on deep space exploration and the sense of urgency instilled by aggressive timelines and goals, we also are cognizant of the resources that will be required to meet these objectives,” the group said in a statement. “Bold plans must be matched by bold resources made available in a consistent manner in order to assure successful execution.”