Wednesday, March 13, 2019

NASA Budget, Jim Bridenstine Begin Detailing Moon Mission

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine talks about the Gateway that will be in lunar orbit during an event highlighting the agency’s progress toward sending astronauts to the Moon and on to Mars, Monday, March 11, 2019, at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Representatives from the Kennedy workforce, news media, and social media were in attendance. NASA's Orion spacecraft, which is scheduled to be flown on Exploration Mission-2, was on display. For information on NASA's Moon to Mars plans, visit: Photo credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

President Donald Trump‘s 2020 budget fully funds NASA’s newly redirected mission of heading to the moon and then to Mars as well as commercial space and earth science research, Administrator Jim Bridenstine declared in unveiling the proposals Monday.

Speaking at Kennedy Space Center, Bridenstine declared that the moon-to-support-Mars mission, which Trump ordered early on in his administration, will be feature an “all-NASA” approach, which he defined as requiring that all of NASA’s other missions, including study of the sun, study of the Earth, and study of outer space, will be focused in ways to support lunar missions that would eventually support a Martian mission.

“NASA’s budget request from the President of the United States is strong and we have strong bipartisan support in both chambers of commerce,’ Bridenstine said.

Central to all that are budget requests totaling nearly $1.2 billion in the agency’s 2020 budget proposal to support development of the “Gateway” lunar orbit space vehicle and various other hardware to support missions around and to the moon, in what Bridenstine called a “sustainable” presence, robotic and eventually human. That’s up from $140 million in the current fiscal year budget and $17 million last year.

Overall, the President’s NASA budget proposal for the fiscal 2020 year is $21 billion, with science research programs taking most of the budget cuts. That’s down slightly from $21.5 million in the current fiscal year. The biggest cuts are in various science programs.

"This is a really good budget for NASA," Mark Geyer, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said Monday. "We're blessed with this budget."

Budget cuts would come to projects such as the Space Launch System rocket, which will carry the Orion spacecraft to the moon, the education office and a new telescope, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

Trump's budget request postpones funding for upgrades to the rocket that would increase its performance, instead focusing on completing the initial version.

SLS has faced major cost and scheduling setbacks and NASA now plans on launching it with Exploration Mission-1, the uncrewed flight of Orion, by 2020. The crewed Orion flight, Exploration Mission-2, is set to fly in 2022.

Bridenstine on Monday addressed the criticism of SLS, saying that it is vital to the country's plans to return to the moon.

"On this point I want to be crystal clear: SLS is not reusable but it is a critical piece of the architecture that enables us to deliver re-usability to the moon," Bridenstine said.

The proposal also removes a payload from SLS's planned manifest. A mission that will study Jupiter's moon, Europa -- called the Europa Clipper mission -- would be removed from SLS, and instead launched in 2023 on the back of a commercial launch vehicle.

Budget documents state that this will save NASA $700 million.

The James Webb Space Telescope -- the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that has orbited the Earth for 28 years -- would be fully funded with $352.6 million under the proposal. Initially expected to launch in 2007, Webb has since been delayed until March 2021 after it breached the $8 billion spending cap set by Congress in 2011. Scientists say they now need $9 billion to finish the telescope.

NASA’s earth sciences program, criticized by many in Congress for focusing on climate change, is down slightly in the budget request, to about $1.8 billion.

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