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By Andrew Follett

Tech billionaire Elon Musk called on NASA to build a moon base during a space technology conference Wednesday.

“To really get the public real fired up, I think we’ve got to have a base on the moon,” Musk said at the 2017 International Space Station Research and Development conference in Washington, D.C.

Musk’s entire justification for the moon base was to boost public interest in space travel.

“Having some permanent presence on another heavenly body, which would be the kind of moon base, and then getting people to Mars and beyond — that’s the continuance of the dream of Apollo that I think people are really looking for,” Musk said.

NASA currently has no plans to build a base on the moon, but does have plans to build a space station orbiting the moon by 2033. The space station would serve as a launch point for expeditions to Mars.

President Donald Trump announced plans in February to return astronauts to the moon’s orbit in 2019. NASA wants to launch four manned flights by 2026 to build a “gateway” station near the moon. However, scientists have criticized the merits of this idea.

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Studies show the U.S. could return to the moon within five to seven years and build a permanent base afterward. China opened a “lunar palace” training center in May to prepare astronauts to live there in the 2030s.

Four post-graduate students from Beihang University are living in a 1,720-square-foot cabin to train for life on the moon, according the state-run Xinhua news agency. The students are testing to see if the Bioregenerative Life Support System (BLSS) can support future astronauts on the moon or Mars.

China and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced a possible partnership to build a base on the moon last month. China wants to join the ESA’s Moon Village” plan, which would put a base on the moon starting in 2020 to mine minerals and provide a refueling station for future Mars missions. The ESA also hopes its moon base will attract paying space tourists.

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