Congress on the verge of canceling 2024 moon mission over funding issues

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The world has heard a lot about NASA returning astronauts to the Moon in 2024. However, Congress hasn’t heard enough when it comes to funding the historic undertaking. Recently, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine took quite the grilling during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on NASA’s budget, Space.com reports.

NASA recently requested an additional $1.6 billion for the fledgling Artemis program to return to the Moon. The request is for the current fiscal year. While the subcommittee is just getting a chance to look at the space agency’s overall budget, NASA’s request for more money comes late in the appropriations process.

Moreover, NASA has dragged its feet when it comes to disclosing the total cost of Artemis. The agency has also moved up the program’s target moon-landing date from 2028 to 2024. This didn’t sit well with members of the committee. Naturally, things got political.

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“NASA has not provided the committee with a full cost estimate despite repeated requests,” Representative Jose Serrano (D-NY) said. “Since NASA has already programmed the lunar landing mission for 2028, why does it suddenly need to speed up the clock by four years, time that is needed to carry out a successful program from a science and safety perspective? To a lot of members, the motivation appears to be just a political one, giving President Trump a moon landing in a possible second term, should he be re-elected.”

Artemis Up in the Air

Furthermore, lawmakers seemed less concerned about the $1.6 billion and more interested in NASA’s future funding. Subcommittee members dogged Bridenstine about the space agency’s budgetary needs running up to 2024. Unfortunately, the NASA chief didn’t have the exact numbers.

However, Bridenstine told CNN in June that landing astronauts on the moon by 2024 might cost anywhere from $20 to $30 billion. When talking to Congress, it’s good to have precise figures. Bridenstine said that NASA will have those by February. “We want to give you those numbers,” he said. “We’re not ready just yet, but certainly we still want to move forward.”

Bridenstine also stressed that Artemis needs big funding early on in order to save money in the future. “If we go inexpensive early, then the likelihood is that cost goes up over time,” he said. The NASA chief also said that Congress will receive a milestone schedule detailing the road to the 2024 target in February.

Follow the Money

The testimony also touched on where the money for Artemis might come from. Subcommittee members expressed their concerns about a clause in the supplemental budget request that gives NASA the freedom to shuffle money around between programs. Lawmakers worry that the clause gives NASA the power to unilaterally cut funding for other programs like science and education.

Related: NASA aims to land the first woman on the Moon by 2024 via Artemis mission

Bridenstine said, though, that the money couldn’t come from the space station or science programs. That kind of action would damage the Artemis program politically, he added. Bridenstine is adamant that Artemis funding comes in the form of additions to NASA’s budget. Once again, Trump tactics loomed over the hearing.

“This is not just about finding the money; it’s about where this president is known to go find moneys when he needs them,” Serrano said, raising concerns voiced earlier that Trump might siphon money from the food stamp program or Pell education grants. “I don’t want to go to the moon by taking money from people who can’t afford to survive in this society.”