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Australia aims for the moon in NASA deal for $12 billion space program

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Australian companies are being promised a $12 billion opportunity from an American plan to return astronauts to the moon within six years, under a new agreement between space agencies in both countries.

Australian astronaut Andy Thomas called the deal a “paradigm shift” for the country because it would lift science and technology after years of reliance on mining for economic growth.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the plan in Washington DC with $150 million in funds for the Australian Space Agency to develop technologies to be used in the US mission to land astronauts on the moon by 2024.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Australian astronaut Andy Thomas at the NASA headquarters in Washington DC.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Dr Thomas, who was born in Adelaide and spent two decades at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the space shuttle program and the International Space Station, said industry in Australia could be transformed by the agreement.


“It’s an investment for all Australians, but it’s long-term investment – it’s not going to pay a dividend in the next election cycle,” he said in Washington DC.

“The dividend is 10 years out.

“I think it’s not hyperbole to say it’s going to change the face of what Australia looks like 10 or 20 years from now, because it’s an investment in new technologies, new scientific enterprises.

“It’s building the base for a new economy in Australia. That’s the paradigm shift.”

Most of the $150 million is expected to be spent in Australia on science and technology for the NASA mission.

Mr Morrison visited NASA offices in the US capital to confirm the space agreement, which was reported by the Herald and The Age on Friday.

US President Donald Trump has ordered the creation of the lunar mission in a program called Artemis to reprise the Apollo landings of the 1960s, but this time putting the first woman on the surface of the moon.

NASA is expected to use the lunar program to as the base to send astronauts to Mars.

Mr Morrison said the government wanted to triple the size of the Australian space sector to $12 billion and create around 20,000 extra jobs by 2030.

Dr Thomas said the result would be more jobs in agencies and companies that support NASA under the new memorandum of understanding.

“They’ll be high-tech jobs, computer science, engineering, but also mid-level technical jobs for technicians and specialists,” he said.

“Ultimately, what it creates is a technically-literate culture in Australia – a culture that ascribes value to science and engineering.

“And that’s like a beacon of light that diffuses through the entire culture and raises everyone’s understanding of science and engineering, and that’s what makes it such an uplifting thing for Australian society.”

David Crowe is chief political correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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