Vice President Pence says US astronauts will return to Moon by 2024

United States Vice President Mike Pence has announced the administration's new, highly ambitious goal of returning astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. The new deadline is four years earlier than the previous Moon touchdown timeline, with Pence referring to the original goal as "just not good enough." The statements were made at the 5th meeting of the National Space Council.

With this announcement, the United States has officially set a deadline for putting astronauts on the Moon's surface by the year 2024 instead of 2028. Pence wrapped up the announcement in rhetoric about being in a new space race with China and Russia. During the meeting, Pence said:

Urgency must be our watchword. The United States must remain first in space in this century as in the last, not just to propel our economy and secure our nation but, above all, because the rules and values of space, like every great frontier, will be written by those who have the courage to get there first and the commitment to stay.

Pence confirmed that the Trump administration is seeking the establishment of a permanent lunar base where astronauts will remain over a long period of time. As well, the administration is pointing toward NASA's existing goal of taking human exploration into deep space, including putting humans on Mars for the first time in history. Such goals are many years away from being reality, however.

According to Pence, the National Space Council will recommend to NASA that it target the Moon's south pole region for its next crewed mission, as the region is known to contain large quantities of water ice and may be an ideal location for a permanent lunar base. The vice president went on to say the plan will require an "all-hands-on-deck approach" to achieving the very ambitious deadline.