NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine says a lunar trip by 2024 will help us reach Mars faster. The US space agency confirmed that it wants to reach Mars by 2033.

Mr. Bridenstine said Tuesday that President Trump’s accelerated timeline to put humans back on the Moon is within the space agency’s capabilities and that a revved-up lunar mission will improve the odds of American astronauts reaching Mars by 2033.

He said that in order to achieve that goal, other parts of the program—including a lunar landing—need to move forward more quickly.

“We want to achieve a Mars landing in 2033,” Bridenstine told lawmakers at a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill.

“We can move up the Mars landing by moving up the Moon landing. The Moon is the proving ground,” added the former Republican congressman, who was appointed by President Donald Trump.

However, Bridenstine noted that for that to happen Congress will have to provide some extra funding. But NASA is still trying to figure out the exact amount.

The NASA chief said he would make his updated budget request by April 15.

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NASA says the lunar landing would provide an opportunity to test its technology and capabilities before carrying out a mission to land on Mars by 2033.

The U.S. space agency wants to learn how to extract and use the tons of ice at the Moon’s south pole.

“Water ice represents air to breathe, it represents water to drink, it represents fuel,” Bridenstine said.

“The intent, of course, is to not just get humans to the surface of the Moon but prove that we can live and work on another world.”

Last week, US vice president Mike Pence told Nasa he wanted the US to return to the Moon within five years. He specifically mentioned the lunar south pole, which “holds great scientific, economic and strategic value”.

“America will once again astonish the world with the heights we reach and the wonders we achieve, and we will lead the world in human space exploration once again,” he said at a meeting of the National Space Council in Huntsville, Alabama.

He also directed NASA to put Americans on the Moon by 2024, instead of 2028 as originally outlined in Trump’s 2017 Space Policy Directive 1.

The new date is politically significant. It would be the final year in Trump’s eventual second term at the White House.

The last manned Moon landing happened in 1972, as part of the Apollo 17 mission. Humans have walked on the Moon six times. NASA carried out all of the missions as part of its Apollo programme.

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Thumbnail image: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (L) – seen here at the US space agency’s headquarters in November 2018. Credit: Brendan Smialowski