To mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon landing, US Vice President Mike Pence announced that NASA's Orion crew capsule is ready for its first trip to Moon.
"Thanks to the hard work of the men and women of NASA, and of American industry, the Orion crew vehicle for the Artemis 1 mission is complete and ready to begin preparations for its historic first flight," Pence said on Saturday at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Trump administration had directed NASA to return humans to the moon by 2024 and then go forward to Mars. NASA has nammed this mission "Artemis" in honour of Apollo's twin sister in Greek Mythology, the goddess of Moon.
NASA's goal 50 years ago was to prove the agency could land humans on the Moon and return them safely to Earth. The goal now is to return to the Moon in a sustainable way to prepare for the next giant leap - sending astronauts to Mars for the first time ever.
Artemis 1 will launch NASA's Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket around the Moon to test the system and pave the way for landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon in five years, as well as future missions to Mars, the US space agency said.
"Similar to the 1960s, we too have an opportunity to take a giant leap forward for all of humanity," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
"And we are well on our way to getting this done," he added.
During Artemis 1, SLS will send the uncrewed spacecraft thousands of miles past the Moon for the first in a series of increasingly complex missions.
Artemis 2 will be the first of these new missions to the Moon with astronauts on board, followed by Artemis 3, which will launch the next American moonwalkers into a new era of exploration, NASA said.
(With inputs from IANS)