(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump pledged to re-establish U.S. dominance in space, a day after he welcomed the surviving Apollo 11 astronauts to the White House to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.
“Sustained exploration that extends from our Earth to the Moon and on to the Martian surface will usher in a new era of American ingenuity,” Trump said in a message on Saturday, which he declared Space Exploration Day.
Trump on Friday invited retired astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, and the family of Neil Armstrong -- the first man to walk on the moon -- to the White House to mark the space milestone. “NASA’s back,” Trump said. “We’re having rich guys use it and pay us rent.”
The U.S. lost its domestic capability to put humans in orbit after the shuttle program was shut down in 2011 without a replacement, and relied on Russia to send astronauts to work in the International Space Station. Trump has waffled on NASA’s priorities. In December 2017, he directed the space agency to return astronauts to the moon by 2025, then in a June tweet made Mars the priority.
On Saturday, he said few moments “spark more pride” than the Apollo 11 mission, which helped inspire generations of scientists and engineers and was the catalyst for a technological revolution.
“My administration is committed to reestablishing our Nation’s dominance and leadership in space,” he said, adding that NASA was directed to “send the next man and first woman to the Moon and to take the next giant leap -- sending Americans to Mars.”
The space agency recently announced it would allow “private astronauts” to pay to visit the International Space Station.
At the White House on Friday, the president said: “We are going to the moon and then we’re going to Mars.”
“We don’t know what we’re going to find on Mars but it’s certainly a trip that’s going to be very interesting,” he said.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told Trump they’ll eventually get to Mars from a space station orbiting the moon.
Vice President Mike Pence said that “within the next year” American astronauts will return to space on rockets launched from U.S. soil.
Trump in February signed an order to clear the way for creation of a new branch of the military called Space Force. He said the administration is “very close to getting that completed and operating.”
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