WASHINGTON • At a time when China is working on an ambitious lunar programme, President Donald Trump has vowed that the United States will remain the leader in space exploration as he began a process to return Americans to the moon.
"We are the leader and we're going to stay the leader, and we're going to increase it many fold," Mr Trump said on Monday in signing "Space Policy Directive 1" that establishes a foundation for a mission to the moon with an eye on going to Mars.
"This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars," he said. "And perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond."
Back in June, China's space official said the country was making "preliminary" preparations to send a man to the moon, the latest goal in China's ambitious lunar exploration programme.
Mr Trump's signing ceremony for the directive included former lunar astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Harrison Schmitt, and current astronaut Peggy Whitson, whose 665 days in orbit is more time in space than any American or woman worldwide.
The ceremony also featured a 3.8 billion-year-old moon rock collected by Mr Schmitt's Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
Mr Trump said he was taking a giant step towards "reclaiming America's proud destiny in space".
"And space has so much to do with so many other applications, including a military application," he said without elaboration.
In approving the new policy, Mr Trump abandoned a goal of his predecessor, Mr Barack Obama, who in 2010 backed a plan to send humans to a near-earth asteroid.
NASA said initial funding for the new policy would be included in its budget request for fiscal year 2019.