Washington, Dec 12: US President Donald Trump has signed his administration's first space policy directive, formally directing the US space agency NASA to send astronauts back to the moon and eventually Mars.
"The directive I'm signing today will refocus American space program on human exploration and discovery," Trump said at a White House ceremony on Monday, Xinhua news agency reported.
"It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use," he said.
"This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps some day to many worlds beyond."
The Space Policy Directive 1, as it is called, was based on recommendations of the National Space Council, which Trump directed to re-establish in June.
The council was first created in 1989 during the administration of President George H.W. Bush but later disbanded in 1993 under President Bill Clinton.
It marked a return to the vision of President George W. Bush, whose Constellation program aimed to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 and then go on to Mars.
However, Constellation was cancelled in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama, on the grounds that Americans "have been there before" and that "there's a lot more of space to explore."
Instead, Obama said the US should start by sending astronauts to an asteroid, a controversial plan known as Asteroid Redirect Mission, which was scrapped earlier this year by the Trump administration.
"Since the beginning of his administration, President Trump has taken steps to refocus NASA on its core mission of space exploration," Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement earlier on Monday.
"He will change our nation's human spaceflight policy to help America become the driving force for the space industry, gain new knowledge from the cosmos, and spur incredible technology," Gidley said.
Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the National Space Council, have repeatedly expressed interest in human lunar missions during the past year.
Pence, during the first meeting of the National Space Council in October, said the moon will be "a stepping-stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships".