In Brief

Nasa defends decision to send people to moon before Mars

Space agency’s new boss says the two missions are far from incompatible

Nasa has justified its decision to return to the moon before putting people on Mars, insisting that the two missions will be “supportive of each other”.

In December, Donald Trump signed an executive order instructing Nasa to send astronauts back to the moon. Last week the agency issued a statement asking the commercial space industry for help with the mission.

In one of his first major speeches as Nasa administrator, Jim Bridenstine said on Wednesday that those waiting enthusiastically for a Nasa-funded trip to the red planet shouldn’t be worried about the agency’s current plans.

“If some of you are concerned that our focus in the coming years is the moon, don’t be,” he told the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington DC. “The president’s vision has emphasised that our Exploration Campaign will establish American leadership in the human exploration of Mars. We are doing both the moon and Mars, in tandem, and the missions are supportive of each other.”

“In fact, our return to the surface of the moon will allow us to prove and advance technologies that will feed forward to Mars: precision landing systems, methane engines, orbital habitation, surface habitation, surface mobility, long duration life support operations, and much more, that will enable us to land the first Americans on the red planet.”

Although the focus is currently on the moon, Space.com writes that Nasa’s upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission is searching for potentially habitable environments on the Red Planet. The agency is keen to store samples with a view to returning them to Earth for further research.

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