NASA has teased a return to the Moon this year as scientists prepare for manned missions to the lunar surface and beyond in the near future.
“For the first time in over 10 years, we have money in this budget for a return to the Moon”
The stunning announcement was made on Monday – despite the space agency having lost about $500million (£378million) in funding.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said even though there had been a budget cut, he was confident a mission to both the Moon and Mars are possible.
NASA aims to return to the Moon by 2020, but Mr Bridenstine suggested it could happen even earlier.
He added: “The President has given us Space Policy Directive 1, which says to go back to the Moon, and we’re going to do that in short order – maybe even in 2019, but at least by 2020 – with commercial lunar payload services that are going to be funded through the Science Mission Directorate.
“Beginning with a series of small commercial delivery missions to the Moon as early as this year, we will use new landers, robots and eventually humans by 2028 to conduct science across the entire lunar surface.”
While the space agency had its budget cut, Mr Bridenstine said he was confident enough cash was in the tank to send a mission to the lunar surface this year.
He said: “For the first time in over 10 years, we have money in this budget for a return to the Moon.
“I’m talking human-related landers, compatible with Gateway, that can go back and forth to the surface of the Moon.
“The Moon is the proving ground, Mars is the horizon goal.”
Scientists keen to send a manned mission to Mars could make a shocking discovery after evidence of water and ancient lakes were found on the Red Planet.
European Space Agency scientists said they have located an underground water complex that was previously predicted by computer models.