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The Final Frontier: Five-Year Plan Calls for US to Establish Base on Moon, Then Go to Mars 

The Moon.

The US is one step closer to returning to the moon and even closer to rocketing to Mars.

The U.S. Space Council met for its sixth meeting Tuesday since 2017 when President Trump re-established the cabinet-level group with the mission of returning the nation's attention to the heavens.

Nearly a decade since NASA retired the space shuttle, Vice President Mike Pence emphasized that "American" will be the keyword when rockets and astronauts head into space by the end of this year.

The successful test launch of the Orion spacecraft this summer is propelling NASA to being one step closer to a moon landing – and possibly beyond.   

When President John F. Kennedy said, "We choose to go to the moon," in his historic push for space exploration at Rice University in 1962, scientists were still unsure whether it was possible.  

Now, 50 years after Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon saying, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," the US plans to return. 

"The next man and the first woman on the moon will be American astronauts," Pence said. 

NASA hopes the five-year timeline will also put Mars within reach. 

Pence said that "our objective will be to establish a permanent place on moon's surface and from there make the jump to Mars."

NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine says the moon will be a "proving ground" and potential launchpad. 

"It's the best place for us to live and work on another world so that we can ultimately go to Mars," he said at a symposium in April. 

If all goes as planned, the first human mission to the red planet could come as soon as 2033.

"People say, why are you accelerating the mission to the moon? Well, because it accelerates our mission to Mars," said Bridenstine.

The next leap into space will require working with commercial partners. This summer, Blue Origin tested the engines for its own lunar lander.  Earlier this year SpaceX successfully docked its automated "Crew Dragon" capsule at the International Space Station. 

Assembling in front of the retired space shuttle responsible for more spaceflights than any other spacecraft,  the vice president said that American spaceflight is back. 

"Working with our industry leaders, before the year is out, the U.S. will once again send American astronauts into space on American rockets from American soil," he said. 

The revitalization of the space program comes as the White House says adversaries like Russia and China are transforming space into a war-fighting domain. 

Taking the necessary steps for America to be prepared for any possibility, Pence said the new U.S. Space Command is set to launch next week under Gen. Jay Raymond.

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