NASA has just been given a huge challenge: to send astronauts to the moon’s south pole in 5 years

NASA has just been given a huge challenge. US vice president Mike Pence announced that president Donald Trump will direct the space agency to send astronauts to the moon by 2024.

“The first woman and the next man on the moon will both be American astronauts launched by American rockets from American soil,” he said at a meeting of the US National Space Council in Huntsville, Alabama.

The meeting was held at the US Space and Rocket Center, the facility where most of the construction of the US’s long-promised Space Launch System (SLS) takes place. SLS is designed to be the largest rocket ever built.

Pence said the schedule for completing SLS must be accelerated. He also said the National Space Council will recommend that US astronauts should land on the moon’s south pole, which is known to host water ice.

He added that future US missions landing there could use nuclear power to extract water from the moon’s southern craters, and mine oxygen from lunar rocks to refuel spaceships.