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Why is the US racing to return to the Moon?

US Vice-President Mike Pence has ordered Nasa to return astronauts to the Moon within five years, with a woman first in line to set foot on the lunar surface.

Referencing China’s recent successful robotic mission to the far side of the Moon, he said: ‘We’re in a space race today, just as we were in the 1960s.’

So what is the fascination with the Moon?

Here is everything you need to know:

  • What has Mike Pence said?

Mr Pence said the initial 2028 goal for the next American on the Moon was ‘just not good enough.’

He said: ‘It is the stated policy of this administration and the United States of America to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years.

‘Some will say it’s too hard, it’s too risky, it’s too expensive. But the same was said back in 1962.

‘Just as the United States was the first nation to reach the Moon in the 20th Century, so too, we will be the first nation to return astronauts to the Moon in the 21st Century.’

Speaking at the United States Space and Rocket Centre in Alabama, he added: ‘The next giant leap is to return American astronauts to the Moon within the next five years by any means necessary, and to establish a permanent presence on the Moon and prepare to put American astronauts on Mars.’

‘In order to accomplish this, Nasa must transform itself into a leaner, more accountable and more agile organisation.’

Nasa will target the lunar south pole, a challenging region with areas that are in permanent darkness.

But the pole also holds reserves of water-ice, which Nasa wants to turn into fuel for spacecraft.

  • Why is the US government interested in the Moon now?

Nasa has long been the leader in space exploration, alongside Russia, but more recently other countries have been making progress, including China.

US President Donald Trump put the Moon at the forefront of his administration’s policy, especially returning astronauts to the lunar surface.