President Trump is calling for a 12 percent increase in NASA's budget for next year to ensure that the agency sends people back to the lunar surface by 2024. The government’s budget released today sees NASA’s $ 25.2 billion for the 2021 fiscal year ahead of a substantial increase over the agency’s $ 22.6 billion that year.
When the law comes into force, the budget is the biggest financial impairment the space agency has experienced in decades. Almost half of the budget – $ 12.3 billion – would be used to fund NASA's Artemis program, the ambitious plan to get the first woman to the lunar surface within the next five years. Almost $ 3.4 billion of this would be invested in developing new commercial countries to bring people to and from the lunar surface, while more than $ 700 million would be used to fund activities on the moon.
"NASA's mission is to bring American astronauts back to the moon by 2024."
"NASA's mission has top priority to bring American astronauts back to the moon by 2024 and build a sustainable presence on the lunar surface as the first step in a journey that will take America to Mars," the president's budget proposal said. The budget emphasizes that Artemis' ultimate goal is to get people to Mars. Supplementary budget materials state that NASA's activities on the moon are designed to gain experience and test technologies that will help send NASA astronauts to the Red Planet someday. To ensure that Mars is not forgotten, an additional $ 233 million is earmarked for preparatory robot missions on the Red Planet as part of Artemis.
While NASA’s exploration initiatives for people would get a huge boost from this proposal, the budget proposal will cancel many of the science programs that have been in the President’s crosshairs since taking office. The request does not provide funding for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, a huge new space observatory that Trump has repeatedly tried to cancel in previous requests. The report also calls for the deletion of two geoscientific missions – PACE and CLARREO Pathfinder – while cutting NASA's STEM engagement office. This year, the government also plans to cancel NASA's SOFIA mission, a specially equipped 747 aircraft that serves as an air observatory, arguing that it has "not been as scientifically productive as other missions."
NASA SOFIA Observatory
However, the proposal is not done. The President's budget request is just the beginning of a very long process that sets NASA's budget for next year. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have to weigh up, and it is unclear how much of this requirement the legislature will withhold when drafting its proposals. In the past, Congress has ignored the Trump administration's attempts to cancel certain NASA projects, and it is likely that lawmakers will continue to follow this trend.
The suggestion is not done
After the White House released its budget proposal, NASA provided more details on the proposal and announced how much money the agency is expected to need to fund the Artemis program over the next five years. NASA expects to need $ 26 to $ 27 billion annually over the next five years, a $ 28.6 billion surplus for 2023. This comes close to the estimate NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine made last year for the total cost of the Artemis program. He argued that NASA would likely need another $ 20-30 billion over the next five years to complete the Artemis Moon landings. Overall, the budget calls for the entire Moon-Mars program to spend $ 71 billion by 2024, including those that have existed since Artemis was founded.
At the core of NASA's Artemis program are two pieces of hardware that the agency has developed over the past decade: a massive space rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) and a new crew pod called the Orion, designed to take people deep -Space goals. Both programs, which are strongly supported by the congresses, are well funded in this application: SLS will receive $ 2.25 billion for next year and Orion will receive $ 1.4 billion. After years of delay, the rocket and capsule are expected to launch their first flight together in 2021.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine speaks about the President's new budget request
Although the SLS receives full funding, the proposal suggests that the development of a new, more powerful upper part of the missile be delayed. The government argues that the new hardware is too expensive and will not be needed to get people to the moon by 2024.
The application also focuses on commercially developed vehicles. The government is asking NASA to launch the agency's flagship mission on Jupiter's Moon Europe with a commercial rocket. NASA is currently mandated by Congress to use the SLS to fly the mission. NASA's budget documents state that using an existing commercial vehicle – such as the Falcon Heavy or Delta IV Heavy – saves $ 1.5 billion instead of the SLS.
The budget proposal also provides for the human lunar lands to be developed commercially – which has become somewhat controversial for legislators. The government also wants commercial rockets to fire the parts of a new space station that NASA plans to build as a gateway around the moon.
Congressmen have already expressed skepticism about NASA's Artemis program
With regard to the International Space Station, the application provides funding for the project until 2025. This is in contrast to an earlier budget proposal from 2018 in which the Trump administration proposed to end direct funding of the ISS by the end of 2024 no longer requiring the ISS to be lifted by 2024, but this proposal underlines NASA's desire that Transfer control of the space station and near-Earth orbit area to commercial companies that want to operate their own orbital stations on our planet. NASA has requested $ 150 million to support this transition.
Overall, the Trump administration is proposing a solid budget for NASA that the agency has not seen in a while. And if NASA is expected to get to the moon quickly, a substantial increase in funding will be required to at least meet the deadline. However, many congressional lawmakers have already expressed skepticism about NASA's Artemis program and doubt that people will have to land by 2024 – a fairly political deadline that would coincide with the end of a second possible term for Trump. It also calls for the big increase for NASA, while the administration is considering cuts in home help programs and the Environmental Protection Agency.
It is doubtful whether the administration will get as much as it wants for the space agency, even though Trump personally calls on Congress to fund the Artemis program in his speech on the state of the union. The coming year will show exactly how much legislators are willing to give and what priorities they think NASA should set.