President Donald Trump formally announced last night that he is sending Americans back to the moon.
Nearly half a century after the last human being set foot on the lunar surface in 1972, Mr Trump said the moon would be used as a stepping stone to a Mars landing.
He signed “Space Policy Directive 1” which ordered Nasa to “lead an innovative space exploration programme to send American astronauts back to the Moon, and eventually Mars”.
As he signed the directive at the White House, with Buzz Aldrinpresent, Mr Trump said: “We will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps some day to many worlds beyond.
“The pioneer spirit has always defined America. This is a giant step toward that inspiring future and reclaiming America’s proud destiny in space.”
He added: “Space has so much to do with other applications. including military applications.
“Lift our eyes up to the heavens and once again imagine the possibilities waiting in those big beautiful stars if we dare to dream, and dream big. That’s what our country is doing again.”
The Daily Telegraph revealed last year that Mr Trump was likely to reverse the course of his predecessor Barack Obama, who had abandoned the idea of a lunar mission.
A White House spokesman, said last night: “He (Mr Trump) will change our nation’s human spaceflight policy to help America become the driving force for the space industry, gain new knowledge from the cosmos, and spur incredible technology.”
Mr Trump’s move was based on recommendations from the National Space Council, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.
The council had been disbanded in 1992 and was restarted by Mr Trump, meeting for the first time in October.
Mr Trump’s announcement came on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 17, the last manned mission, setting down on the moon.
The commander of Apollo 17, Gene Cernan, was the last human to leave footprints on the moon when he departed back to Earth on Dec 14, 1972.
Mr Cernan, who died in January this year aged 82, had predicted that mankind would reach Mars by the end of the 20th Century.
Under President George W. Bush’s Constellation programme a trip back to the moon was planned for the 2020s, but his successor President Barack Obama cancelled it.
Mr Obama favoured a mission to get men to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025, and then close to Mars by the mid 2030s.
Among those advising Mr Trump who urged going back to the moon were Newt Gingrich, who once advocated putting a colony there, and Buzz Aldrin, the second man to reach the lunar surface.
Jim Bridenstine, Mr Trump’s nominee to be the next Administrator of Nasa, also supports the moon option, and has also argued that America should mine it for fuel.
Mr Bridenstine has yet to be approved by Congress as head of Nasa and, during confirmation hearings, has faced grilling over his beliefs on climate change.
In September the US and Russia announced they would work together towards building a space station orbiting around the moon, which would act as a gateway to deep space.
Mr Trump has long been critical of Nasa becoming what he called “primarily a logistical agency for low Earth-orbit activities, instead of space exploration” and he has promised that America will “lead the way into the stars”.
However, climate scientists have been critical of him over slashing funding for Nasa’s Earth science programme in favour of paying for exploration.
And some backers of deep space exploration also believe a moon mission could delay the ultimate goal of progressing to further destinations.
Joe Cassady, of the space advocacy group Explore Mars, said: “The one thing we want to make sure is…don’t go down any dead ends.
“Anything we do there (on the moon) should have a feed-forward component that takes us in the direction of Mars.”