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The NASA administrator says it will cost $ 20-30 billion to send astronauts back to the moon

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has finally announced the total cost estimate for the Space Agency's plan to bring astronauts back to the moon: $ 20-30 billion. That's the extra money that NASA needs in addition to the agency's average annual budget to implement this ambitious program, Bridenstine told CNN in an interview.

"It would cost 20 to 30 billion dollars in addition to the normal NASA budget, but of course that would take five years," Bridenstine said in an interview.

This is the first time anyone at NASA has revealed the full cost of the plan to bring people back to the lunar surface ̵

1; a program the agency recently baptized Artemis. NASA aims to bring a crew to the moon by 2024, after being asked by Vice President Mike Pence to accelerate the mission. During this first landing, the agency plans to write history by letting the first woman step on the lunar surface.

Artemis jumpstart The White House has requested an additional $ 1.6 billion in fiscal year 2020, in addition to the $ 21 billion the president had requested for the rest of NASA next year. However, Bridenstine was aware that this initial budget is just a "down payment" for the program. NASA officials, including Bridenstine, have repeatedly explored issues that will cost the entire five-year program. Representatives of the congress expressed frustration that not all of the prize has been fixed in advance.

Based on this CNN estimate, NASA will need an additional $ 5 to $ 6 billion a year over the next five years to land this moon. Bridenstine was not exactly into how the money was going to be spent, but NASA was well aware of the architecture she wanted to build for Artemis. NASA is currently working on the development of a new rocket called the Space Launch System, as well as a new team capsule called Orion, which will bring people close to the moon. In addition, the agency wants to create a new space station around the moon, the gateway, where astronauts can live for a short time and then travel down to the lunar surface. NASA has already commissioned an aerospace company called Maxar to build the first module for the gateway.

An artistic representation of the gateway NASA wants to build around the moon.
Image: NASA

And of course NASA will need a very important piece of hardware: a land system that will allow people to be safely transported away from the gateway, placed on the surface, and then returned to the station. Over the next few months, NASA plans to release a final call for proposals for lunar lander and then select companies to develop the system over the next few years.

The success of Artemis depends on the approval of additional funding for the program by Congress It is unclear whether this will happen. The White House called on NASA to fund the first $ 1.6 billion from the Pell Grant fund, which provides scholarships to low-income students, and that did not appeal to many legislators. The recent Budget Proposal of the House Appropriations Committee for 2020 has allowed NASA to increase funding but has not provided additional funding for Artemis.

Without an increase in budget, NASA could cut funding from other programs to achieve its goal. When the White House asked for additional money for Artemis in a budget change, the application also included a language that allowed the administrator to use funds from other NASA projects to finance the Moon program. NASA officials are already preparing for tough cuts.

"I do not think we're going to get the whole budget as new money," said Bill Gerstenmaier, deputy administrator of NASA for human exploration, at a recent NASA Advisory Council meeting. "We have to look for efficiency gains and make some internal reductions, and it will be difficult." Legislators like Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chair of the House Science Committee, expressed concern about this feeling and feared that science programs might suffer.

Bridenstine claims that he will not "exploit" other programs in NASA to bring people to the moon. Nevertheless, it can be a great achievement to receive an additional $ 20 to $ 30 billion from Congress over the next five years. NASA's budget has seen a great boom during the Apollo program in the 1960s, but that was at the height of the Cold War, and the political climate has changed significantly since then.

NASA will have a better idea of ​​where Congress stands budget for next year is set. But if the agency does not even get the extra $ 1.6 billion she's been asking for Artemis for 2020, NASA's dreams of landing on the moon over the next five years may not come true.

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