Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday called on NASA to step up his game and land astronauts on the moon within five years, "By any means necessary."
"It's time to redouble our effort," Pence said during a Meeting of the National Space Council at Huntsville, Ala.
Pence warned that NASA can not put astronauts on the moon by 2024, "we need to change the organization, not the mission." He cautioned that the space agency needed to be transformed into a more efficient organization, or else it would have been replaced by private industry.
"We're not committed to one contractor. If our current contractors can not meet this objective, then we'll find it that. If American industry can provide critical business services without government development then we'll buy them. And if commercial rockets are the only way to get American astronauts to the moon in the next five years, then commercials will rockets, "Pence said.
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NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine assured Pence that NASA would be hard to meet the deadline, expressing confidence that the SLS, or space launch system, would be ready for the job.
Planetary scientist Alan Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
But outside experts were skeptical that the goal could have been achieved
Shaper NASA official Scott Hubbard pointed out tha
This is the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Since Apollo 17 astronauts left on the moon in 1972, no country has sent humans back to the lunar surface.
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The National Space Council, led by Pence, held its fifth meeting at the US Space and Rocket Center, right next door to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, where the Boeing-built SLS is now managed.
Aldrin, now 89 years old. (Armstrong died in 2012 at age 82. The third Apollo 11 astronaut, Michael Collins, is now 88 years old.)
Pence said it was unacceptable that SLS delays and cost overruns to 2028 target date – nearly two decades after the SLS program started. By contrast, it took NASA's only eight years to put astronauts on the moon in July 1969.
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"The exploration of the heavens in this quiet new century will go forward Americans do not want to live in the United States, and so do, "Pence said to cheers and applause.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.