Feb 11, 2020 - Science

Trump administration seeks 12% boost for NASA in new budget

The Moon, AKA the apple of NASA's eye. Photo: NASA

The Trump administration is going all-in on NASA's Artemis program to get astronauts back to the surface of the Moon by 2024.

Driving the news: The White House is asking Congress for a 12% boost to the space agency's budget for 2021, and it estimates NASA's Moon to Mars initiative will cost about $71.2 billion from 2021 to 2025.

The big picture: The budget request is a huge leap in funding for NASA, with much of it going to the agency's plans to establish a long-term presence on the Moon in the hopes of sending astronauts to Mars eventually.

"[T]hey're putting money into significant lunar lander development, service operations, modernizing spacesuits. ... Tick off all the things you need to do to land on the Moon in the next few years, this budget is doing it."
— Casey Dreier of the Planetary Society to Axios

Winners: Aside from the Artemis program, the budget also provides funding for the development of multiple robotic Mars missions that could pave the way for human exploration of the red planet.

  • Those missions include a 2026 launch of a robotic probe to bring samples back from the Martian surface and a new Mars Ice Mapper that will characterize the planet's ice.
  • The budget also funds the Orion spacecraft and the agency's long-delayed Space Launch System rocket as well as technology needed for a small Gateway space station in lunar orbit.

Losers: The Trump administration is attempting to cancel funding for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which is slated to be the space agency's next flagship astrophysics mission after the James Webb Space Telescope's expected launch in 2021.

  • The budget request also cuts funding for the SOFIA telescope — which flies on a modified Boeing 747 aircraft and observes cosmic objects in infrared light — and would cancel two missions to monitor Earth's climate.
  • The request would also end funding for the agency's STEM Engagement office, instead moving that money toward its exploration goals.

Be smart: It's unlikely the president's budget will get enacted in its current form no matter how friendly to human exploration it is.

  • Congress has reinstated funding for WFIRST and STEM education initiatives when the administration has tried to cancel funding in the past, and this time will likely be no different.

Go Deeper: NASA's difficult road to the Moon

Go deeper

Trump's improbable moonshot

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

NASA is unlikely to meet its deadline of sending astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024, even with a large influx of funding.

Why it matters: The Artemis mission to send people back to the Moon is the Trump administration's flagship space policy, and its aggressive, politically-motivated timeline is its hallmark.

Go deeperArrowFeb 18, 2020 - Science

NASA's next Mars rover is named Perseverance

Artist's illustration of the Perseverance rover on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's next Mars rover, expected to launch to the Red Planet in July, is officially named Perseverance.

The big picture: Once on Mars, the mission is designed to search out possible signs of past life on the planet and cache samples for a future mission to return back to Earth one day.

Go deeperArrowMar 5, 2020 - Science

Earth adopted a new "mini-moon"

Gemini Observatory's image of 2020 CD3. Photo: NSF/AURA/G. Fedorets

A likely "mini-moon" found orbiting Earth last month is moving away from our planet now, but it could be a harbinger of new small moons to come.

Why it matters: Objects like this one — which is thought to be a washing machine-sized asteroid captured by Earth's gravity — could allow scientists to one day study space rocks without needing to head all the way out to the asteroid belt.

Go deeperArrowMar 3, 2020 - Science