Biden Administration “Certainly” Supports Artemis Program

Biden Administration “Certainly” Supports Artemis Program

The Biden Administration “certainly” supports the Artemis program to return American astronauts to the lunar surface according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.  A day after punting on the question, she voiced strong support not only for the return to the Moon, but going on to Mars.  Left unanswered, however, is what timeline they have in mind.

The Trump Administration revived the goal of putting people back on the Moon after the Obama Administration eschewed it in favor of focusing on Mars using an asteroid rather than the Moon’s surface as a steppingstone. President Trump’s first Space Policy Directive in December 2017 changed two sentences in Obama’s National Space Policy replacing the asteroid with the lunar surface as the waypoint to the Red Planet.

Initially NASA targeted 2028 for the first human landing since Apollo 17 in 1972, but on March 26, 2019, Vice President Pence, as chairman of the White House National Space Council, directed NASA to accelerate that by four years to 2024, the last year of a second Trump term if he won reelection. NASA later named the program Artemis after the Greek goddess of the Moon and twin sister of Apollo.  It has been working assiduously to meet the 2024 date since then.

Many are skeptical that 2024 is achievable technically or budgetarily, but there is bipartisan support for the Moon/Mars goal. Congress has provided billions of dollars over many years for the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft needed to get people to deep space and more recently for the Gateway and Human Landing Systems (HLS) for getting down to and back from the lunar surface.

However, for FY2021, Congress provided only 25 percent of the funding requested for HLS, $850 million instead of $3.4 billion. NASA estimates HLS alone will cost $16 billion from FY2021-2025, not to mention the rest of the program.

Facing a $3 trillion deficit and with a focus on COVID relief and climate change, the question has been whether Biden will continue support for a program so associated with Trump and on what timeline. The Democratic Party Platform specifically endorsed human exploration of the Moon and Mars so Biden’s support for the goal was expected, but the timeline question is up in the air even after today’s statement.

Yesterday, Psaki was asked about Biden’s support for Artemis by Fox News correspondent Kristin Fisher, who is the daughter of astronauts Bill and Anna Fisher.  Psaki replied she personally finds the space program fascinating, but had not talked to her team about Artemis yet.

She clearly did afterwards and provided a more comprehendive answer today.

Kristin, who’s back today again, asked a great question about the Artemis program, which I dug into and I’m very excited about it now, to tell my daughter all about it.

So, for those of you who have not been following it as closely, through the Artemis program the United States government will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the surface of the moon. Another man and a woman to the moon, which is very exciting, conduct new and exciting science, prepare for future missions to Mars, and demonstrate America’s values.

To date only 12 humans have walked on the moon. That was half a century ago. The Artemis program, a waypoint to Mars, provides exactly the opportunity to add numbers to that of course. Lunar exploration has broad and bicameral support in Congress as most recently detailed in the FY 2021 Omnibus spending bill and certainly we support this effort and endeavor.


The statement does not shed any light on the pace at which Biden wants to proceed and there still is the matter of how much Congress is willing to appropriate.  NASA requested a total of $25.2 billion for FY2021, a 12 percent increase over FY2020 in order to pay for Artemis. But although Congress had been adding money to the NASA request for several prior years, mostly to restore NASA science and education programs Trump proposed eliminating, in this case it provided less — $23.3 billion —  demonstrating there are limits to what they will allocate. They also complained that the Trump Administration wanted to cancel other NASA programs to make funds available for Artemis.

In a letter to Biden yesterday, 11 Democratic Senators urged robust funding for HLS in the FY2022 budget request, but stressed they did not want to see NASA’s other “critical work” cannibalized in the process.

Biden’s FY2022 budget request may be the first explicit indication of how much he is willing to spend on human spaceflight, a major factor in how quickly it can proceed.  The timing for when it will be sent to Congress is unclear, but most likely in late March or early April.

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