"What we need now is urgency", Pence said during a speech to a crowd at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Pence's speech expressed a note of impatience toward NASA, saying that a rocket known as the Space Launch System-which Boeing has been developing for 18 years while running billions of dollars over budget-has "been plagued by bureaucratic inertia, by what some call the paralysis of analysis".
Pence's remarks first caused some confusion over whether a "return" to the moon necessarily meant landing astronauts on the moon or putting them into lunar orbit by 2024. "As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, what better place to discuss the future of space exploration than to do it in the #RocketCity".
"It is the right time for this challenge, and I assured the Vice President that we, the people of NASA, are up to the challenge", Bridenstine added. The council unites the interests of groups working on commercial, scientific, and national security space operations from a policy perspective. But NASA officials later clarified a moon landing within five years was, indeed, the stated objective.
NASA has already set its sights on the moon's south pole, a region believed to hold enough recoverable ice water for use in synthesizing additional rocket fuel.
The U.S. Apollo program, NASA's forerunner to the effort at returning humans to Earth's natural satellite, tallied six manned missions to the moon between 1969 and 1972.
The US vice president declared: "The exploration of the heavens in this still new century will go forward with or without the United States".
He said the U.S. administration is committed to the goal at the direction of President Donald Trump. According to NASA, "the Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover mission, now scheduled to launch in July 2020, demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet".
To get astronauts on the moon by 2024, Bridenstine said the space agency's new megarocket will be needed, but its development and pace will need to be faster.
He said the United States was engaged in a present-day "space race" under Trump, this time against China, just as the country was in the 1960s under President John F. Kennedy against the Soviet Union. "It is important that Congress stay the course, support existing law, and provide required funding so that America can once again achieve greatness in space exploration".