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Trump Increases NASA Spending by $1.6 Billion With Goal of Returning to Moon

"I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!"

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NASA
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine talks to employees about the agency's progress toward sending astronauts to the moon and on to Mars during a televised event, Monday, March 11, 2019. VOA

The Trump administration asked Congress on Monday to increase NASA spending next year by an extra $1.6 billion to accommodate the accelerated goal of returning Americans to the surface of the moon by 2024.

The increased funding request, announced by President Donald Trump on Twitter, comes nearly two months after Vice President Mike Pence declared the objective of shortening by four years NASA’s timeline for putting astronauts back on the moon for the first time since 1972.

The proposed increase would bring NASA’s total spending level for the 2020 fiscal year to $22.6 billion. The bulk of the increase is earmarked for research and development for a human lunar landing system, according to a summary provided by NASA.

NASA
“I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!”, says Trump. Pixabay

“Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars,” Trump tweeted late on Monday. “I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!” NASA had previously aimed to return crewed spacecraft to the lunar surface by the year 2028, after first putting a “Gateway” station into orbit around the moon by 2024.

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The newly accelerated goal – an endeavor likely to cost tens of billions of dollars – comes as NASA has struggled with the help of private partners to resume human space missions from U.S. soil for the first time since the shuttle program ended in 2011.

The U.S. Apollo program, NASA’s forerunner to the effort at returning humans to Earth’s natural satellite, tallied six manned missions to the moon from 1969 to 1972. So far, only two other nations have conducted controlled “soft” landings on the moon – the former Soviet Union and China. But those were with unmanned robot vehicles. (VOA)

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Billionaire Jeff Bezos Reveals Mockup of Lunar Lander, Embraces Trump’s Moon Timetable

The lander will be able to deliver payloads to the lunar surface, deploy up to four smaller rovers and shoot out satellites to orbit the moon

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lunar lander
Jeff Bezos speaks in front of a model of Blue Origin's Blue Moon lunar lander, May 9, 2019, in Washington. VOA

Billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos unveiled on Thursday a mockup of a lunar lander being built by his Blue Origin rocket company and touted his moon goals in a strategy aimed at capitalizing on the Trump administration’s renewed push to establish a lunar outpost in just five years.

The world’s richest man and Amazon.com Inc’s chief executive waved an arm and a black drape behind him dropped to reveal the two-story-tall mockup of the unmanned lander dubbed Blue Moon during an hour-long presentation at Washington’s convention center, just several blocks from the White House.

The lander will be able to deliver payloads to the lunar surface, deploy up to four smaller rovers and shoot out satellites to orbit the moon, Bezos told the audience, which included NASA officials and potential Blue Moon customers.

His media event followed Vice President Mike Pence’s March 26 announcement that NASA plans to build a space platform in lunar orbit and put American astronauts on the moon’s south pole by 2024 “by any means necessary,” four years earlier than previously planned.

“I love this,” Bezos said of Pence’s timeline. “We can help meet that timeline but only because we started three years ago. It’s time to go back to the moon, this time to stay.”

lunar lander, jeff bezos
Jeff Bezos speaks at an event before unveiling Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander, May 9, 2019, in Washington. VOA

While Bezos went out of his way to praise Pence’s timeline, the billionaire has been the target of repeated criticism from President Donald Trump, who has referred to him as Jeff “Bozo.” Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which Trump has frequently targeted in his broadsides against the news media.

In their lunar ambitions, however, Trump and Bezos are very much in harmony. Trump in 2017 made a return to the moon a high priority for the U.S. space program, saying a mission to put astronauts back on the lunar surface would establish a foundation for an eventual journey to put humans on Mars. If re-elected next year, 2024 would be Trump’s final full year in office.

At his presentation, Bezos unveiled a model of one of the proposed rovers, roughly the size of a golf cart, and presented a new rocket engine called BE-7, which can blast 10,000 pounds (4,535 kg) of thrust.

Blue Origin’s ambitions

Privately held Blue Origin, based in Kent, Washington, is developing its New Shepard rocket for short space tourism trips and a heavy-lift launch rocket called New Glenn for satellite launch contracts. A Blue Origin executive told Reuters last month New Glenn rocket would be ready by 2021. Bezos on Thursday said launching humans on suborbital flights would take place later this year on New Shepard.

Blue Origin has previously discussed a human outpost on the moon. During his presentation, which sounded at times more like a professorial lecture than a business plan, Bezos did not address a specific launch schedule for the lander or a specific mission for it.

NASA has set its sights on the moon’s south pole, a region believed to hold enough recoverable ice water for use in synthesizing additional rocket fuel as well as for drinking water to sustain astronauts.

jeff bezos, lunar lander
Privately held Blue Origin, based in Kent, Washington, is developing its New Shepard rocket for short space tourism trips and a heavy-lift launch rocket called New Glenn for satellite launch contracts. VOA

Bezos, intent on moving Blue Origin closer to commercialization, underscored his broader vision of enabling a future in which millions of people live and work in space. He mentioned two important issues: reducing launch costs and using resources already in space.

“One of the most important things we know about the moon today is that there’s water there,” Bezos said. “It’s in the form of ice. It’s in the permanently shadowed craters on the poles of the moon.” His announcement came about two months before the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, and he began his presentation with video of that event.

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Bezos did not address his company’s Twitter post last month teasing the event with a picture of the ship used by explorer Ernest Shackleton on a 1914 expedition to Antarctica. Industry sources said the image was a likely reference to an impact crater on the lunar south pole sharing the man’s name, raising speculation that Blue Origin’s lander was targeting that spot.

His vision is shared by competing billionaire-backed private space ventures like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and aerospace incumbents like United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin. (VOA)