US President Donald Trump welcomed former Apollo 11 astronauts to the White House on Friday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, as his administration continues to wrestle with the next step in U.S. space exploration.
“NASA’s back," Trump said with retired astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. “We’re having rich guys use it and pay us rent."
The family of Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon, joined Trump and the astronauts in the Oval Office.
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 Trump has waffled on NASA’s priorities. In December 2017, he directed the space agency to return astronauts to the moon by 2025. But in June he said in tweets that NASA should forget about the moon, saying “We did that 50 years ago."
NASA should instead “be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars," Trump said.
The space agency NASA recently announced it would allow “private astronauts" to pay to visit the International Space Station.
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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