WASHINGTON: The agency that sent humans to the moon 50 years ago is offering $7 billion to take the first steps for a US return to the lunar surface within five years.

Nasa is seeking US companies that can deliver cargo, experiments and supplies to a spacecraft named Gateway in lunar orbit as part of the planned Artemis landing mission. It’s largest of several proposals unveiled since May as the agency accelerates work to return to space, with the eventual goal of reaching Mars.

The agency is still lobbying Congress and President Donald Trump to sign off on Artemis, which may require as much as $30 billion to complete the task by 2024, NASA administrator James Bridenstine said on CNN in June. He later declined, in testifying to a Senate committee, to pin down an estimate. In May, Trump upped Nasa’s budget for next year.

“We’ve put an end to decades of budget cuts and decline,” Vice President Mike Pence said Aug. 20 at a Virginia meeting of the National Space Council. “We’ve renewed America’s commitment to human space exploration, vowing to go further into space, farther and faster than ever before.”

The US 2024 landing target would be ahead of the goal set by China, which wants to have its astronauts at a research station at the south pole in the 2030s.


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