Vice President Pence is pushing hard to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon within five years.
Speaking at a meeting of the National Space Council on Tuesday, Pence said the Trump administration “will consider every available launch option and is not committed to ‘any one contractor,’” reports the Los Angeles Times.
“That means you, Boeing,” the newspaper added.
Pence insisted NASA must “take on greater urgency in returning to the moon,” the New York Times says. “At the same time, the goal of accelerating that pace has not been reflected in the administration’s NASA budget requests.”
Boeing is working with NASA on the Space Launch System (SLS), a giant new rocket. But the first test flight of the SLS has been pushed back to 2021, Pence said, and “we’re actually being told the earliest we can get back to the moon is 2028. That’s not good enough.”
He added that “If our current contractors can’t meet this objective, then we’ll find ones that will … And if commercial rockets are the only way to get American astronauts [to the moon] in the next five years, then commercial rockets it will be.”
That “opens the door for companies such as Elon Musk-led SpaceX, which is developing a new spacecraft … to transport humans to Mars,” the LA Times says, noting that SpaceX has already announced that Japan’s e-commerce billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will be “the first paying customer to ride around the moon” in one of its spacecraft, possibly by 2023.
Pence said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstein has developed a back-to-the-moon plan, but since the agency hasn’t even begun work on a lunar lander, “how it could be accomplished by the end of 2024 is not clear,” the NY Times says.