The White House has proposed one of the largest NASA budget increases in decades. The budget increase provides substantial support for the agency’s Artemis program that hopes to return human beings to the surface of the Moon by 2024.
Released by the US Office of Management and Budget on February 10, the budget proposal requests $25.246 billion for NASA in the 2021 fiscal year. The amount represents an increase of 12% from the $22.629 billion appropriated for the agency in the 2020 budget.
“President Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget for NASA is worthy of 21st-century exploration and discovery,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during his State of NASA address. “The reinforced support from the President comes at a critical time as we lay the foundations for landing the first woman and the next man on the South Pole of the Moon by 2024. This budget keeps us firmly on that path.”
The foundation of NASA’s return to the Moon is directly represented in the new budget with more than $3 billion allocated to the development of a human landing system. This is the first time a NASA budget has allocated direct funding for a human lander since the Apollo Program.
In addition to funding for a human lander, the budget has also requested funding for the development of several other important components for a crewed mission to the Moon. This includes $430 million for next-generation lunar surface technology, $212 million for lunar rovers, and $175 million for the spacesuits astronauts will wear to explore the lunar surface.
Despite the positive support for NASA’s push to return humans to the Moon, the budget also proposes several controversial cuts. The budget has sought to cancel the WFIRST astrophysics, CLARREO Pathfinder and PACE Earth science missions, the latter of which has only recently received funding to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 later this year.
Additionally, the budget has proposed abandoning the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), an observatory built into a Boeing 747 aircraft that costs the agency $80 million a year to operate. The observatory has been criticised in recent years for being costly to operate while failing to deliver any high-quality data.
However, despite the proposal, the White House may find it difficult to garner approval from Congress for the cuts. Proposals to cut all the above missions have been rejected by Congress before. The PACE Earth science mission, for instance, has been on the budgetary chopping block in 2018, 2019 and 2020 with Congress nonetheless providing full funding for the mission all three years.