Scott Morrison to unveil $150m support for Trump's mission to Mars

Katharine Murphy Political editor, in Washington DC
Photograph: Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images

Scott Morrison has used a visit to Nasa on Saturday local time to unveil a $150m investment in Australian businesses and new technology to support the American space agency launch expeditions to the moon and to Mars.

The Australian prime minister on his second day in the American capital visited Nasa, and also laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery. Morrison visited the graves of Australian military personnel and visit the tomb of The Unknown Soldier.

Later in the day, the prime minister visited Bunker Labs and met entrepreneurs working with war veterans before attending a tree planting ceremony at the official residence of the Australian ambassador to Washington, Joe Hockey.

Related: Donald Trump suggests China 'a threat to the world' while praising Scott Morrison as a 'man of titanium'

In a statement ahead of Saturday’s program, Morrison said the $150m commitment over five years would see the Australian Space Agency “foster the new ideas and hi-tech skilled jobs that will make Australian businesses a partner of choice to fit out Nasa missions”.

“The government’s support means Australian businesses and researchers will have the opportunity to showcase their immense knowledge and capabilities in projects that can support Nasa’s Moon to Mars mission, such as Project Artemis and the Lunar Gateway”.

“The Australian Space Agency will work closely with Nasa to identify how they can best support their missions after the signing of a joint statement of intent on expanding cooperation”.

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Asked on Friday in the Oval Office to outline how America and Australia could work together to develop the space program, Donald Trump claimed credit for reviving the sector. “We’re doing a great program,” the president said.

“We have a tremendous space program. If you look at our facilities, they were virtually closed up. There was crabgrass growing on the runways and now they’re vital.

Related: Morrison toasts 'unconventional' Trump – but Hillsong pastor reportedly rejected from guest list

“And you know, we’re … going to Mars. We’re stopping at the moon. The moon is actually a launching pad. That’s why we’re stopping at the moon.

“I said, ‘Hey, we’ve 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. And we’ll be – we’re making tremendous progress”.

Morrison has been feted and challenged in equal measure during his opening stint in the American capital.

During his program at the White House on Friday, Trump declared China was a threat to the world “in a sense” and raised the spectre of Australia joining a coalition of military action against Iran, before characterising Morrison as a “man of titanium”.

The Australian prime minister dined with his American host in the Rose Garden at a state dinner on Friday night.

Morrison will leave Washington DC for Ohio on Sunday local time. Trump will accompany him on a side visit to a new Australian-owned paper recycling mill in Ohio owned by the billionaire box maker Anthony Pratt, and later fly to Chicago before heading to the United Nations in New York next week.