Sept. 27 (UPI) -- The Australian government has pledged to make a $150 million investment to support NASA's return to the moon and Mars.
The Australian Space Agency made the pledge to foster "new ideas and hi-tech skills jobs" that will help it partner with future U.S. missions. The partnership was highlighted during Prime Minister Scott Morrison's visit to the United States Wednesday for the United Nations General Assembly.
"We're backing Australian businesses to the moon, and even Mars, and back," Morrison said. "We're getting behind Australian businesses so they can take advantage of the pipeline of work NASA has committed to.
"There is enormous opportunity for Australia's space sector which is why we want to triple its size to $12 billion to create around 20,000 extra jobs by 2030."
NASA plans to return to the moon and travel to Mars in Project Artemis and the Lunar Gateway. The agency said the Artemis program will lead to the next human moon landing in 2024, which will include the first woman to walk on its surface. The Lunar Gateway will be a spaceship that orbits the moon and serves as a pit-stop for future trips to the Red Planet.
Australian astronaut Andy Thomas, who was a part of NASA's space shuttle program, said the commitment is a game-changer for Australia's fledgling space program.
"It's an investment in new technologies, new scientific enterprises," Thomas said. "It's building the base for a new economy in Australia. That's the paradigm shift."
Japan also announced this week it will cooperate with NASA's Artemis program after NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. While no there is no formal agreement yet, Japan said it would play a role in Artemis and Gateway.
"JAXA's capabilities and the nation of Japan's capabilities are significant," Bridenstine told reporters Wednesday. "The United States and NASA would love to see Japan and JAXA working with us on building that space station in orbit around the moon."