US President Barack Obama has outlined his administration's new space exploration plan, vowing to increase NASA's budget by $6 billion over the next five years.
Speaking at the Kennedy Space Centre on Thursday, where America's moon missions originated decades ago, Obama said he was “100 per cent committed to the mission of NASA and its future".
Obama said he wants to accelerate the development of a large, heavy-lift rocket to carry astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit. He called for a decision on the new rocket design in 2015.
He said by 2025 he expects US space exploration to reach beyond the moon and further into the solar system's reaches, aiming to send US astronauts into Mars orbit by the mid-2030s.
“By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth, and a landing on Mars will follow," Obama told a gathering of about 200 space scientists and members of the Congress.
The president was making a trip to the heart of the US space industry, seeking to explain why he aborted former president George W. Bush's return-to-the moon plan.
"We've been there before," Obama said. "There's a lot more of space to explore."
Obama has faced sharp criticism for proposing to abandon the Constellation moon programme after $9 billion has been spent, and to allocate $6 billion to support private companies in developing space rockets to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.