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Trump Requests $1.6 Billion Plus-Up to NASA Budget to Return Americans to the Moon by 2024

Trump Requests $1.6 Billion Plus-Up to NASA Budget to Return Americans to the Moon by 2024

President Trump made his first comment today about the proposal to accelerate NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the surface of the Moon within 5 years — a program now named Artemis.  Vice President Pence announced the goal on March 26, but Trump has been silent about it until today.  Trump’s tweet was to announce that he is increasing his NASA budget request for FY2020 by $1.6 billion to begin paying for it.  The questions are whether that is adequate to meet such a bold goal and if Congress will agree.

The original FY2020 budget request for NASA is $21.019 billion, a half billion reduction from its FY2019 funding level.  The new request will restore that half billion and add a billion more.

Trump’s NASA tweet said the following.

It was one of several tweets he issued about budget amendments he is requesting, including additional funds for the Special Olympics, the Army Corps of Engineers Everglades restoration work, and protecting the Great Lakes.

The complete package was submitted to Congress by Trump this evening. In his submittal letter, he said: “These amendments are fully offset and do not change the overall discretionary budget authority requested in my FY 2020 Budget.”

That means the money to pay for the Moon program and other additions were taken from other places in the President’s existing budget request, not added to the funds he requested earlier for FY2020.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and other NASA officials held a media telecon at 7:00 pm ET tonight about the NASA increase, just about an hour after it was announced.  Bridenstine was asked about the source of the additional $1.6 billion for NASA.  He insisted he did not know, that NASA was briefed only on its part of the supplemental request.  He did herald, however, the fact that none was taken from inside NASA, specifically science or the International Space Station (ISS).

A NASA summary shows where the money will go, if not where it originates.

Source: NASA

While he said none came from inside NASA, the total does reflect a cut of $321 million from the Gateway program.  The Gateway is a small space station in lunar orbit that will be a transfer point for astronauts travelling between the Earth and the lunar surface. NASA is scaling it back to “minimal” capabilities so it can focus on the vehicles needed to get from the Gateway to the surface.  Bridenstine nevertheless went out of his way this evening to stress that it is a critical component of the lunar program and will grow over time, including international contributions.

Bridenstine made clear the $1.6 billion is just a down payment and more will be needed in the future.  He did not say how much, only that NASA is working on developing that cost estimate.  He reiterated that reports that it will cost $8 billion per year above the original NASA 5-year budget plan are completely wrong.

Asked what the reaction from Congress has been so far, he acknowledged that many members were not in town today so he was not able to speak with many of them, including Rep. Jose Serrano, chair of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee that funds NASA.  As for those he did speak with, he said only that one could expect to hear various reactions from them.

Bridenstine will have three chances tomorrow to expound on his remarks.  At 9:00 am ET he is scheduled to speak to the Humans to Mars Summit.   At 12:30 pm ET, he will hold an employee Town Hall meeting at NASA HQ in Washington, DC.  At 3:00 pm ET he is scheduled to testify to the Senate Commerce space subcommittee.  All of those events will be webcast.

Note:  This article has been updated.

 

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