Donald Trump signs directive to send astronauts back to Moon

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The event will coincide with the 45th anniversary of the last crewed mission - Apollo 17 - to land on the moon. "Today, we pledge that he will not be the last". "This time we will not only plan on flag and leave our footprint".

President Trump on Monday ordered NASA to send astronauts back to the moon and then eventually to Mars, part of the administration's focus on manned space exploration.

President Trump will sign a directive on Monday afternoon aimed at shifting NASA's resources and attention toward the moon and Mars, according to a statement from the White House.

"[The move] marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972 for long-time exploration", he said.

Vice President Mike Pence has spearheaded the administration's space policy and was on hand for the signing of the directive. But the programme was shut down when Barack Obama became the president as he believed that Americans "have been there before" and that "there's a lot more of space to explore".

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The policy was inspired by a unanimous recommendation from the National Space Council, which the White House says Trump revived after 24 years. The resulting NASA programme, Constellation, was to put astronauts on the moon by 2020 but was hobbled by delays and cost overruns, reports The New York Times.

Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator, said he thinks the new directive could provide "a sense of urgency" to NASA's spaceflight pursuits.

Currently, Boeing is the main contractor for NASA's Space Launch System, working alongside United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK, and Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop the SLS system which aims to launch rockets into deep space using NASA's new Orion spacecraft.

Back in June, China's space official said the country was making preliminary preparations to send a man to the Moon, the latest goal in China's ambitious lunar exploration program.

Both Trump and Pence further argued that investment in the space program would lead to increased job creation, innovation and military applications.