The White House on Monday will propose one of the largest NASA budget increases in years, as it seeks to return humans to the moon by 2024, a bold endeavor that space agency officials have said would require a significant infusion of cash.
Artemis is the agency’s top priority and a key goal for the Trump administration, which has sought to reinvigorate human exploration while reigniting interest in space. The proposed increase is a sign of its seriousness, officials said, and comes after President Trump urged Congress to fully fund the program in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
If approved, the budget would mark a huge bump for the agency, which has seen its spending level rise from about $19 billion during Trump’s first year in office, to more than $22 billion this year.
The budget proposal was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Last year, Vice President Pence, who chairs a reconstituted National Space Council, called for NASA to dramatically accelerate its efforts to return astronauts to the moon. Originally, NASA was planning on a 2028 lunar landing, but Pence directed the agency to speed that up by four years, “by any means necessary.”
Since then, NASA has been scrambling to award contracts for the necessary hardware, but it has had a difficult time winning congressional support. Last month, the House Science subcommittee on space and aeronautics voted out a bill that directs NASA to land on the moon by 2028, instead of 2024, and spend most of its energy and resources on an eventual mission to put astronauts in orbit around Mars by 2033.
And while NASA has said it wants to rely on a large swath of a growing space industry, the House bill would favor one company — Boeing — which is building a massive rocket to take astronauts to the moon, but has been beset by all sorts of cost overruns and delays.
Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), the chair of the subcommittee, has vigorously defended the bill, saying it had bipartisan support. She said NASA has yet to lay out an overall cost for the mission and that the bill “sets a clear goal for NASA to get us there in the quickest and most efficient way possible.”
The White House budget proposal, however, shows the administration is proceeding with its plan and would like to award a contract for a lunar lander in the coming months. Several companies are vying for the contract, including Boeing, SpaceX and a team of companies led by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin that also includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Unlike during the Apollo program five decades ago, when astronauts flew to the surface of the moon, stayed for a little while and then returned home, NASA would like to establish a more permanent presence on and around the moon. It plans to develop an outpost in lunar orbit, known as the Gateway, to which astronauts would fly first, and from which they would be transported back and forth to the moon’s surface by the landers.
As part of the budget proposal to be released Monday, the administration is also expected to lay out the full cost of Artemis with a detailed plan for how it expects to achieve the 2024 deadline.