Democratic Senators Urge Robust Funding For HLS While White House Punts on Artemis

Democratic Senators Urge Robust Funding For HLS While White House Punts on Artemis

Eleven Democratic Senators wrote to President Biden today urging that his FY2022 budget request include robust funding for the Human Landing Systems (HLS) needed to return astronauts to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program. Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki punted on a question today about whether the White House supports Artemis, saying she had not spoken to her team about it yet.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) led the letter writing effort. Blue Origin, one of the HLS competitors, is headquartered in her state.  Interestingly, however, fellow Democratic Washington Senator Maria Cantwell was not among the signatories. She is the incoming chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that oversees NASA and has spoken favorably about NASA and Artemis in the past.

Joining Murray are the two Senators from Colorado (Bennet and Hickenlooper),  Nevada (Cortez Masto and Rosen), and Maryland (Cardin and Van Hollen), along with Baldwin (Wisconsin), Blumenthal (Connecticut), Kaine (Virginia), and Peters (Michigan).

The letter stresses they do not want other NASA programs to be cannibalized to pay for HLS, however.

We recognize and embrace the fact that NASA has numerous vital missions, including planetary science, climate change research, and STEM education outreach. We fully support this work. The previous administration sought to cannibalize these efforts for the Artemis Program, an approach with which we vehemently disagree, and which the Congress roundly rejected on a bipartisan basis. We urge you to protect all of NASA’s critical work by requesting a topline funding level commensurate with the true need.

What they do want is “robust funding” for HLS and “timely selection of companies to advance to the next stage of development and demonstration contracts.”

NASA signed 10-month contracts with Blue Origin’s National Team (including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper), Dynetics, and SpaceX last year with the intent of choosing one or two of them to proceed to the next phase by the end of this month. NASA notified the companies on January 27, however, that the selection will be delayed until the end of April. NASA wants permission to pick at least two of the three in order to maintain competition and have a backup in case one falls behind or fails. Use of the word “companies” in the letter indicates the Senators support that approach.

The reality is, though, that Congress appropriated only 25 percent ($850 million) of the requested $3.4 billion for HLS for FY2021. The top Democrats that oversee NASA’s budget on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy (VT) and Shaheen (NH), did not sign the letter. The only member of the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee that did is Van Hollen.

Former astronaut Mark Kelly (D-AZ) also was not on the list of signers.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked today about the Biden Administration’s position on the Artemis program, but she did not have an answer.  She said she personally is interested in space and finds it fascinating, but has not spoken to “our team” about it yet.

The question came from the same correspondent — Kristin Fisher of Fox News according to some media reports, who coincidentally is the daughter of astronauts Bill and Anna Fisher — who asked Psaki about the Space Force.  Psaki said Space Force has the Biden Administration’s full support.  C-SPAN tweeted a clip of the entire exchange.

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