NASA looks like it has a fight on its hands to get the money it says it needs to put a man on the moon in 2024.
That’s four years earlier than it originally planned and requires escalation of development of crucial elements including the launch system and lander.
In order to return man to the moon ahead of its schedule, NASA says it will need an extra US$1.6 billion in 2020 just to get started.
This additional funding would be used to speed up development of the Orion space vehicles and the Space Launch System and to start work on a lunar lander.
The US$1.6 billion was on top of President Donald Trump’s US$21 billion budget request for NAS funding.
However, the powerful Democrat-dominated House Appropriations Committee has demonstrated little inclination to lightly accede to any administration funding requests.
It released a spending bill on Friday handing NASA US$22.32 billion for fiscal year 2020, which is US$1.3 billion above NASA’s original request and US$820 million more than NASA received in 2019.
That’s the good news. The not so good news is that it mostly ignored the White House budget request of US$1.6 billion to speed up the moon landing program.
Instead, the NASA budget gets US$5.13 billion, an increase of just over US$100 million above its original 2020 request. The Orion spacecraft project, which will take man back to the moon and eventually maybe Mars, gets US$159 million and the Space Launch System to launch Orion gets US$375 million.
However, that’s been offset but cuts elsewhere – US$618 million from exploration research and development, which was to fund development of the lunar lander and lunar Gateway, the outpost orbiting the moon from which the moon lander would depart and to which it would return.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said before the committee decision that US$1.6 billion was at the low end of what they needed and any less could jeopardise the moon landing program timetable.
“If Congress comes in with a lower number, the probability of success goes down and the risk goes up,” he said. “Can we do it? I don’t know.”
The committee may come around.
Key members said lack of detailed information kept them from backing the proposed increase.
Texas Democrat Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson said she wanted more details on the moon landing plans and what it would cost.
“I am going to reserve judgment on the overall moon landing plan until Congress is provided with more concrete information on the proposed lunar initiative,” she said in a statement.
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