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NASA Budgets for a Trip to the Moon, but Not While Trump Is President

NASA Budgets for a Trip to the Moon, but Not While Trump Is President

Sending astronauts back to the moon is one of the top space arrangements of President Trump. But his administration wants to achieve that without giving NASA additional money, and it won’t occur until after he leaves office, even if he wins re-election.
Instead, it aims to give the private sector a greater role, according to a budget proposal to be released on Monday.
The administration is also looking to end American payments for the International Space Station by 2025. The space station is currently scheduled to operate through 2024, but the expectation was that it would be extended through at least 2028.
According to excerpts from NASA documents obtained by The New York Times before the budget’s release, the administration will propose $19.9 billion in spending for the space agency in fiscal year 2019, which begins on Oct. 1. That is a $370 million increment from the present year, the result of the budget deal reached in Congress last week and signed by Mr. Trump.
The budget numbers were confirmed by a person who was not authorized to talk publicly about them.
In future years, the administration would like NASA’s spending to drop to $19.6 billion and stay flat through 2023. With inflation, NASA’s purchasing power would erode, effectively a budget cut each year.
A NASA spokesman said he could not discuss the budget proposal until it was released.
The proposal is just an opening bid. Congress decides the final spending numbers, sometimes adjusting them or ignoring a president’s priorities. But an administration’s wishes are often incorporated.
NASA’s budget will be declared at a moment when the agency has no permanent leaders to carry out the new directions. Mr. Trump nominated Jim Bridenstine, an Oklahoma congressman, to be the next administrator, but the Senate has not yet confirmed him. Whether the administration has the votes to confirm him remains uncertain. This is by far the longest period in NASA’s history without an administrator.
Additionally, no one has been nominated for the No. 2 position, deputy administrator.
The Trump administration has also established a National Space Council, led by Vice President Mike Pence, to coordinate space policy between military and civilian agencies. The council held its first public meeting in October, and is to meet again this month.
The Trump administration is also looking to trim the budget of NASA’s earth science directorate, which includes climate research and cancel several spacecraft like the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystemmission. The nearly $1.8 billion budget for that part of NASA would be about 6.5 % lower than what was enacted for fiscal year 2017. The Trump administration also wants to end education programs. Similar proposals last year were disregarded by Congress.
The astrophysics division would be cut by 12 %, but overall, the budget would give an increment to NASA’s science directorate, primarily for robotic planetary missions.
Rumors of the intent to end space station financing were recently reported in The Verge and other outlets, drawing strong criticism from some lawmakers, including key Republicans.
“I hope that those reports prove as unfounded as Bigfoot,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas and the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, said on Wednesday during a Federal Aviation Administration conference on commercial space transportation.
He decried “numbskulls” at the Office of Management and Budget in the White House for coming up with the idea. “As a fiscal conservative, you know one of the dumbest things you can do?” he said. “Canceling programs after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life in it.”
The same conference was attended by Scott Pace, the executive secretary of Mr. Pence’s space council. While he did not discuss details of the budget, Mr. Pace recommended that money needed to be freed up for new initiatives.

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