Pence: US to send astronauts to the moon within 5 years

Vice President Pence said Tuesday that the Trump administration is committed to landing U.S. astronauts on the moon within the next five years.

"Just as the U.S. was the first nation to reach the moon in the 20th century, so too will we be the first nation to return astronauts to the moon in the 21st century," Pence said at a meeting of the National Space Council in Alabama.

"The first woman and the next man on the moon will both be American astronauts, launched by American rockets from American soil," he added.

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While officials have spoken broadly about restoring American leadership in space, Pence's comments on Tuesday mark the administration's most concrete timeline for sending astronauts to the moon.

The space council recommended on Tuesday that the next U.S. mission to the moon chart a course for the south pole of the lunar surface. Pence cited the pole's "scientific, economic and strategic value."

The vice president, who serves as chairman of the National Space Council, said the Trump administration has directed NASA to hit the five-year goal "by any means necessary."

The government will not commit to a single contractor to carry out its moon mission, Pence said, and is willing to seek out commercial rockets if necessary. 

"Urgency must be our watchword," he said. "Failure to achieve our goal to return an American astronaut to the moon in the next five years is not an option."

Space exploration has been an area of focus in the Trump administration. The president signed an executive order in July 2017 to revive the National Space Council after more than two decades.

In addition to exploration, the administration has sought to develop a military component known as the Space Force.

The Department of Defense filed a legislative proposal earlier this month requesting $2 billion in funding over five years to create the Space Force. The plan calls for a transfer of 15,000 space-related personnel from elsewhere in the department to the new branch, which would fall under the Air Force.