NASA dubs 2024 Moon mission 'Artemis,' asks for $1.6B

Federico Mansilla
May 14, 2019

The White House is asking Congress for an additional $1.6 billion for NASA's budget next year as the space agency attempts to return humans to the moon by 2024. But since the White House issued that bold mandate, NASA has released few details about how it would achieve it or what the program would cost.

Under a budget amendment sent to Congress Monday evening, the administration would use an additional $1.9 billion in surplus Pell Grant money to fund other budget priorities, including an infusion of new cash for NASA "so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!"

It was unclear what the reaction in Congress would be. Democrats in the House have been particularly critical of the White House's plan, calling it a political gambit timed to align with the elections calendar.

In March, US President Donald Trump's administration moved the date for the next American lunar mission up by four years from its original goal of 2028 while pledging to get a female astronaut to the Moon's surface for the first time.

"The lack of planning evident so far is no way to run our nation's human space exploration programme", Representative Kendra Horn, chair of a subcommittee that oversees Nasa, said at a recent hearing.

NASA hopes that more exploration of the moon will help the USA establish a strategic presence in space and grow their global partnerships.

Pence's announcement took many inside NASA by surprise.

Astronaut James Irwin, lunar module pilot, gives a military salute while standing beside the US flag during Apollo 15 lunar surface extravehicular activity (EVA) at the Hadley-Apennine landing site on the moon, August 1, 1971. "They responded with what we requested, and we're very proud of that".

The revised plan from NASA calls for launching components of the small, space-station-like Lunar Gateway on commercial rockets by 2024. At the moment, NASA does not have the ability to fly astronauts anywhere in space. Instead, it pays Russian Federation more than US$80 million a seat to fly its astronauts to the International Space Station.

NASA revealed Monday that it needs an additional $1.6 billion in funding for fiscal year 2020 to stay on track for a human return to the Moon by 2024.

An additional US$651 million would also go to help speed development of Nasa's massive Space Launch System rocket, built largely by Boeing, and the Orion spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin.

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NASA's next mission to the Moon will be called Artemis, the USA space agency announced Monday, though it's still looking for the money to make the journey happen by its accelerated 2024 deadline.

But Nasa officials warned that it would need additional money in the future in order to meet the goal.

To get down to the lunar surface and back, NASA will need a transfer module, a descent module for landing, and an ascent module to come back up from the surface. "This is a good amount that gets us out of the gate in a very strong fashion, and sets us up for success in the future".

Instead of going directly to the surface of the moon, as it did during the Apollo missions of the late 1960s and early '70s, NASA is instead looking to build a more permanent presence by building an orbiting outpost known as the Gateway. It would also go towards exploration technology development and additional science missions to the moon.

To accommodate getting humans to the surface quickly, the budget amendment proposes cutting US$321 million from that project and shift "potential Gateway capabilities into the future".

Officials insisted the re-allocation of the Pell Grant money would have no impact on those now receiving grants, which help low-income students pay for college.

It is not clear what the reaction in Congress would be.

"If we're going to be there in 2024, we've got to spend roughly about a billion dollars in 2020 to get that activity moving forward", he said of lunar lander development. "You'll see a series of flights in that period between 2024 and '28", he said. "I think there's a lot of excitement on both sides of the aisle", he said.

The plan calls for NASA to proceed with its first two SLS fly-around missions to the Moon - the first with no crew and the second with an astronaut crew - then use the third SLS mission to support the landing. That would be followed by another mission, with astronauts in the Orion crew capsule, for a trip around the moon.

Bridenstine added that he's already talked about the plan with members of Congress.

The White House's amended budget request comes a week after Jeff Bezos unveiled a lunar lander that his space company, Blue Origin, has pitched Nasa to get cargo and eventually people to the lunar surface.

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