Oct. 5 (UPI) -- At its first meeting in a quarter-century Thursday, the recently-resurrected National Space Council met with Vice President Mike Pence to discuss the U.S. space agenda's aim to send astronauts "to Mars and beyond."
Pence, who chairs the commission, said the United States plans to rebuild a space program to send humans back to the surface of the moon -- a decision meant to serve as a "steppingstone [and] training ground" to attempt a manned mission to Mars.
"We will return American astronauts to the moon ... to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond," Pence said in a speech Thursday at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
Pence criticized previous administrations for allowing NASA to fall behind the space programs of other nations, specifically Russia and China, while noting that in the half-century since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the famous first lunar landing aboard Apollo 11, the United States has "ceded ground" due to "apathy and neglect" for space exploration.
"Here we are in 2017, still relying on the Russians to ferry our astronauts to the International Space Station," Pence said.
The vice president also noted that it's been 40 years since the United States sent an astronaut farther than the International Space Station in low Earth orbit.
Pence laid out some specifics for the administration's plan in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday.
Unlike previous government-run efforts at space exploration in the past, Pence said, the new goal will be to "look beyond the halls of government" and partner with private U.S. space exploration companies.
"Business is leading the way on space technology, and we intend to draw from the bottomless well of innovation to solve the challenges ahead," Pence said.
It remains to be seen exactly what will be planned and what a time frame could look like for the future missions.