MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia will invest A$150 million ($101 million) in its companies and technology to help U.S. President Donald Trump's bid for a moon landing by 2024 and subsequent U.S. missions to Mars, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said over the weekend.
Morrison, visiting NASA headquarters in Washington, said the five-year investment plan would help businesses support U.S. automation systems, build equipment for space craft and play a role in mineral exploration.
"We're backing Australian businesses to the moon, and even Mars, and back," Morrison said.
The announcement came after Morrison made a state visit to the White House on Friday, with the red carpet rolled out, signaling Australia's strong ties with the United States after a period of tense relations with China.
The investment is part of a broader Australian plan to beef up its space sector, with Morrison saying the government wants to triple the size of the sector to A$12 billion and create some 20,000 extra jobs by 2030.
Trump, when asked at a joint news conference with Morrison about the U.S. space program, said the focus was on Mars.
"We're stopping at the moon," he said, according to a transcript.
"The moon is actually a launching pad. That's why we're stopping at the moon. I said, 'hey, we've already done the moon. That's not so exciting'. They said, 'no, sir, it's a launching pad for Mars'. So we'll be doing the moon but we'll really be doing Mars."
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Robert Birsel)