US Vice-President Mike Pence has expressed the intention for America to send humans back to the Moon's surface. Speaking to the National Space Council, he said Earth's satellite would be a "stepping stone" to the wider exploration of the Solar System. "We will return astronauts to the Moon - not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond," he stated. The statement drew loud applause. Mr Pence said something similar when he visited the Kennedy Space Center in July, but he was less specific then about boots on the lunar soil. It may give stronger hints to the direction of thinking that will be pursued when the Trump White House finally gets its nomination in place for Nasa administrator. Representative Jim Bridenstine, a Republican from Oklahoma, is the Trump pick to take the job but has yet to be confirmed by the Senate. In his speech to the newly re-established advisory body (this was the first time it had convened in nearly a quarter of a century), Mr Pence said US space policy had lost its edge and needed to reassert itself. "The president has charged us with laying the foundation for America to maintain a constant commercial human presence in low-Earth orbit. From there, we will turn our attention back toward our celestial neighbours," he said. The speech, delivered in front of Space Shuttle Discovery at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, was backed up by an earlier op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. But neither speech nor the newspaper article mentioned timelines or funding numbers.
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