NASA Requests More Money for Artemis Program

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Despite the President’s Insistence That the Moon’s Not a “Big Deal,” White House Officials Ask Congress for $2.3 Billion More In Order to Meet Its Self-Imposed 2024 Deadline.

Let’s start by saying there’s a lot to unpack here. I’ll do my best to stick to the facts and keep things as clear as possible, though we may get into the weeds a bit by the time we’re through. Artemis, NASA’s mission to put the first woman and the next man on the moon, needs more funding. This according to the White House’s acting director of the Office of Budget Management, Russell Vought. Vought expressed his concerns in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby (R – Alabama). The letter addressed several other concerns (namely the costly SLS rocket Shelby’s been championing for years), but among them was funding for Artemis.

Let’s Start With Artemis Deadlines and Politics

Originally, officials at NASA were targeting 2028 for the next crewed mission to the moon under the Artemis program. Then, in March, Vice President Mike Pence announced a new deadline of 2028—cutting four years off. This put the pressure on NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine to figure out a way to make Artemis successful by 2024. The move was criticized heavily for being political, as 2024 would coincide with the end of a second Trump term.

The President, for his part, however, still doesn’t have any idea how any of this works. He has continuously downplayed the importance of going back to the Moon since the change in deadline. And he has instead ordered everyone to focus their message on Mars. In tweet after tweet, our chief executive has demonstrated an inability to grasp the importance of Artemis as a proving ground for the technologies that will get us to Mars in the 2030s.  

As a response to the slashed deadline, Bridenstine fired the longtime head of human space flight, William Gerstenmeir. Then he threw down the gauntlet to companies like SpaceX and Boeing, whose delayed projects affect Artemis’ timelines.

NASA also offered millions of dollars worth of contracts to private companies to design and build the systems that will make Artemis successful.

Despite Politics, the Funding is Necessary and Affordable.

Vought is asking for an additional $2.3 billion in funding this year in order to meet the Artemis mission objectives on time. On one hand, one might be tempted to think this is a mistake. After all, the White House mandated the change in the Artemis schedule without Congressional approval. Now they want Congress to pay for the additional costs of their (possibly politically motivated) deadline change. 

On the other hand—make no mistake about it—we’re in a race to the Moon again. However, even political motivations don’t necessarily make it a bad idea. China and Russia are teaming up and combining their lunar exploration programs. India, Israel, and others are working on sending their own unmanned craft to the moon. Also, the reality is, the sooner we get to the Moon again, the sooner we get to Mars.

For some perspective, NASA’s overall budget is around $23 billion. So the White House is asking for a 10% increase. By way of comparison, the total federal budget for this year is $4.4 trillion. That means NASA’s budget, though it seems like—and is—a lot, represents a relative drop in the federal bucket at only 0.5%. For further comparison, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier costs $13 billion to make. So $2.3 billion to get us back to the Moon by 2024 really does seem like a bargain at twice the price.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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