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White House requests $1.6 billion more for NASA's "Artemis" moonshot

Neil Armstrong on the moon.
Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969. Photo: NASA/Newsmakers

The Trump administration will ask Congress to authorize another $1.6 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2020 in order to put the agency on track to return humans to the moon by 2024, President Trump tweeted Monday evening.

Why it matters: The administration had previously submitted a budget proposal to Congress that did not include funding for the ambitious moon mission, which moved the timeline for a crewed mission to the moon up by four years compared to NASA's previous plans. On a press call, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said the additional funding provides a "down payment" on NASA’s efforts to land humans on the moon by 2024 and that more funding will be required in later years.

Details:

  • The mission will be named Artemis, Bridenstine said, after Apollo's twin sister and goddess of the Moon. (This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing during the Apollo Project.)
  • The amendment would provide for the continued development of the frequently delayed Space Launch System rocket, as well as the building of a staging infrastructure near the moon known as the Lunar Gateway, NASA officials said.
  • The amendment, and NASA's overall plans, do involve potential partnerships with commercial space companies such as Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin or others.
  • Bridenstine committed to sending the first female astronaut to land on the lunar surface on the next moon landing intended for 2024.
  • According to the AP, the White House is shifting money from Pell Grants, which help low-income students pay for college, to NASA. Bridenstine said the additional money would not come from inside the agency but that he did not know where the White House had found the funds.

Our thought bubble: Axios space reporter Miriam Kramer says this request doesn't mean the 2024 deadline will be met. It's unclear exactly how far these new funds will go toward meeting the ambitious timeframe laid out by the Trump administration. The real test will be in how much extra funding is put toward the moon mission after 2020.

  • Going to the moon in the way NASA wants to isn't easily done with a one-time influx of cash. This is an investment. It also remains unclear exactly what will lose out so the moon mission can succeed, with the possibility that funds will be shifted from other agency programs in the future.
  • NASA will need bipartisan support from Congress in order to get this amendment passed, so where that money comes from is just as important as where it's going.