VP Mike Pence: I want Americans back on the Moon by 2024 (or before the Chinese get there)

'We're also racing against our worst enemy' says President Trump's straight man – but who could that be?

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President Donald Trump wants NASA astronauts to return to the Moon by 2024 “by any means necessary,” Vice President Mike Pence thundered on Tuesday.

Brave Pence announced the plan at a National Space Council Meeting held at Huntsville, Alabama, and said the White House administration wants the US space agency to take charge of the trip, though it can tap up any extra private sector help along the way to make the mission a success. The bottom line is: American boffins using American rockets to send American people to the American Moon.

Iron Mike stood resolute and unflinching as he complained that NASA was moving too slowly. The space agency is planning to build a space station, dubbed the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, to permanently house a roster of astronauts as it circles the Moon. There are blueprints in the works to deploy crewed landers to the surface of the Moon from the orbiting lab, though nothing has been confirmed. In any case, under current schedules, NASA isn’t going to build the gateway until after 2022.

You see, getting back to the Moon is proving to be a complete headache for America, astronaut expert Pence said, because NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) – which when, or possibly if, built will be one of the world's largest rocket ever made – has been slow to develop, and is way over budget. NASA wants to use the SLS to launch its Orion spacecraft carrying parts necessary to build the lunar gateway out in the void, though it's keeping its options open in case SLS turns into a busted flush.

Furthermore, NASA's proposed FY2020 budget, laid out earlier this month, showed that the US government had tightened its purse strings, to the point that building an updated booster module for the SLS would have to be deferred. Pence said today that "if our current contractors can’t meet this objective, then we’ll find ones that will," which sounds like him throwing shade at NASA's chief SLS contractor Boeing during the event.

Some at NASA have hinted they may be willing to drop the SLS program, and use completely independent commercial rockets and spacecraft from the likes of SpaceX or Blue Origin. But the agency has sunk so much into SLS that cancelling it at this stage would be highly embarrassing. It would also mean that the Orion capsule has to be adapted to fit a different launch system.

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Pence declined to commit at this early stage to any clear solutions to how the US will get to the Moon in the next five years, preferring to fall back on the prospect of competition. He mentioned that China was also planning to settle humans on the Moon in the 2020s. “We're also racing against our worst enemy,” he said before adding: "Complacency."

The goal is to explore the Moon and its treasure trove of water ice. “That ice represents power. It represents fuel. It represents science,” boomed Pence, er, no, wait, that was NASA. Harnessing that resource will help the space agency venture even further out into space, eventually to Mars, it said.

“Just as the United States was the first to reach the Moon in the twentieth century, so too will it be the first to we’ll be the first nation to return astronauts to the Moon in the twenty-first century,” astroboffin Pence fiercely pledged in conclusion [yes, yes, that's enough non-Fake News the president wants us all to write – ed.] ®

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