Japanese Astronauts Could Join U.S. in Mars Trip

The U.S. and Japan will “dramatically expand” their cooperation in outer space, with missions to Mars and the moon coming “very soon,” President Donald Trump said, as his administration challenges China for dominance beyond Earth’s orbit, Bloomberg reports.

“Japan will join our mission to send U.S. astronauts to space,” Trump said during a press conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Monday. “We’ll be going to the moon, we’ll be going to Mars very, very soon. It’s very exciting. From a military standpoint, there is nothing more important right now than space.”

Trump spoke while on a four-day state visit to Japan, two months after his Vice President Mike Pence said that Washington will return astronauts to the moon within five years, using commercial rockets.

Washington and Beijing are in a race to explore Mars and beyond, another front in a battle for global influence that encompasses not just trade but technological and military superiority, Bloomberg added.

While the U.S. hasn’t landed an astronaut on the moon since 1972, China became the first country to land a spacecraft on its far side. It’s now planning further missions to return samples to Earth before assessing the feasibility of a lunar research base.

Trump’s interest in reigniting American space exploration comes after years of budget concerns, including the cancellation of shuttle flights.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s effort to create a new military service for space cleared a critical hurdle as the Senate Armed Services Committee voted last week to approve the establishment of the U.S. Space Force in its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, Space News informs.

The committee voted 25-2 to advance the legislation to the Senate floor, possibly the week of June 10.

The SASC vote to authorize a Space Force is not surprising from a Republican-controlled Senate. But it was not seen as guaranteed given the skepticism voiced by committee members during a hearing April 11 with Pentagon officials. Several senators questioned the rationale and cost of standing up a new military bureaucracy to handle functions that the Air Force already does.

The committee agreed with DoD’s recommendation to establish the U.S. Space Force within the U.S. Air Force. But it set a number of conditions and a one-year timeline for the Defense Department to start building the Space Force and prove to lawmakers that the administration has a vision for the new service, Space News noted.

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