CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The NASA chief said Tuesday that the Trump administration’s proposed $1.6 billion budget increase is a “good start” for astronauts returning to the moon within five years.
Administrator Jim Bridenstine addressed employees a day after the White House introduced the budget amendment.
During an hour-long town hall from NASA headquarters in Washington, Bridenstine said $1.6 billion is enough by 2020. But more money will be needed in the coming years to land “the next man and first woman” at the pole. south of the moon by 2024.
NASA once again resorts to Greek mythology for the name of the project. Her name is Artemis, after the twin sister of Apollo. Apollo was the name of NASA’s Moonshot program that, 50 years ago this summer, achieved the first manned moon landing.
NASA put 12 men on the moon on six Apollo missions. For the next round, the space agency wants its moonwalkers to reflect the most diverse astronaut corps today, hence the name Apollo’s sister. Artemis was the goddess of the hunt and of the moon.
“I have a daughter, she’s 11 years old, and I want her to see herself in the same position that our current and very diverse astronaut corps sees herself having the opportunity to go to the moon,” Bridenstine said. “In the 1960s, young women didn’t have the opportunity to see themselves in that role. They do it today.”
Bridenstine said he is encouraged by the fact that the additional money, if approved by Congress, will come from outside NASA, rather than from the International Space Station or other departments within the space agency.
The administration seeks to use Pell Grant money for college education for new NASA expenses.
Bridenstine said he’s already heard criticism about how the new spending will be “dead on arrival” in Congress because neither NASA nor the administration worked with Congress on it beforehand. As a former congresswoman from Oklahoma, she said she knows how the process works and assured the space agency’s 17,000 employees that would not be the case.
“This is a good first start, a very honest proposal from the administration that keeps us all together, moving forward,” he said.
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It also connected NASA’s Space Launch System megarocket and Orion spacecraft, both in development, and a proposed outpost in the vicinity of the moon, called Gateway.
A few hours later, Bridenstine found himself before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, discussing the Artemis moon plan. The space agency envisions the effort will involve private industry as well as other countries. Last week, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos unveiled a mockup of his own planned lunar lander for his space company Blue Origin.
In March, Vice President Mike Pence urged NASA to speed up its moon landing program, moving it forward from 2028 to 2024.
NASA has oscillated between the Moon and Mars, a victim of changes in presidential administrations. More recently, President Barack Obama has targeted Mars as the next great destination for astronauts, while President Donald Trump has leaned on the Moon.