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The Apollo 12 lunar lander descending to the surface of the moon. Photo: NASA/JSC

NASA wants to return humans to the surface of the Moon by 2024 as part of its newly minted Artemis program, but they're having trouble getting congressional buy-in.

What's happening: Last week, the space agency rolled out an amended budget for Fiscal Year 2020, asking for an extra $1.6 billion to get astronauts back on the Moon four years earlier than initially planned.

  • Congress largely agrees with the idea that Americans should go back to the Moon, but they're resistant to funding a program that has no formal spending plan beyond this year.
  • Another sticking point for congressional Democrats is the White House's proposed source of the extra funds: A surplus in the Pell Grants program, which benefits low-income students.
  • Last week, Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), who chairs the appropriations panel overseeing NASA, voted a spending bill out of his committee that did not include the $1.6 billion for the moonshot.
“Before NASA expects any funding to accelerate the mission to the moon, it needs to provide the Appropriations Committee with the total cost of landing humans in space in 2024, the estimate of any additional costs incurred for speeding up the timeline as well as the technical details of the plan. Cutting Pell grants to fund this initiative is a slap in the face to millions of need-based students."
Rep. José Serrano, in a statement to Axios
  • For his part, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine says NASA views the requested influx of funding as a “down payment," with the expectation that the agency will need more money to make the 2024 deadline happen.
  • "We're currently working with the Administration to come up with a complete picture that will be a part of the Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal," a NASA spokesperson told Axios via email.

What they're saying: "I think the fundamental issue is whether Congress agrees with the White House that acceleration of the lunar program is a good idea. And my intuition is that the answer to that question is yes," John Logsdon, the founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, tells Axios.

Go deeper

47 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Group of 20 bipartisan senators back $1.2T infrastructure framework

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) arrives for a meeting with Senate Budget Committee Democrats in the Mansfield Room at the U.S. Capitol building on June 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Majority Leader and Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee are meeting to discuss how to move forward with the Biden Administrations budget proposal. Photo: Samuel Corum / Getty Images

A group of 10 Democratic and 10 Republican senators (the "G20") tasked with negotiating an infrastructure deal with the White House has released a statement in support of a $1.2 trillion framework.

Why it matters: Details regarding the plan have not yet been released, but getting 10 Republicans on board means the bill could get the necessary 60 votes to pass.

DOJ drops criminal probe, civil lawsuit against John Bolton over Trump book

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Justice Department has closed its criminal investigation into whether President Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton disclosed classified information with his tell-all memoir, “The Room Where it Happened," according to a source with direct knowledge.

Why it matters: The move comes a year after the Trump administration tried to silence Bolton by suing him in federal court, claiming he breached his contract by failing to complete a pre-publication review for classified information. Prosecutors indicated they had reached a settlement with Bolton to drop the lawsuit in a filing on Wednesday.

Fed may raise rates sooner, as inflation is higher than expected

Feb chair Jerome Powell. Photo: Susan Walsh/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve kept rates unchanged at its latest policy meeting, but a shift in sentiment emerged as to how soon it should begin raising rates.

Why it matters: The Fed's rock-bottom rates policy and monthly asset purchases helped the U.S. markets avoid a meltdown during the COVID-19 crisis last year. But as the economy recovers, a chorus is growing for the Fed to at least consider a timeline for pulling back its support before things get overheated.