NASA wants to go back to the Moon. That was true even before Donald Trump won the presidency, but a mandate by the administration to make a crewed Moon mission a reality “within five years” dramatically shortened the space agency’s timeline. Now, with the fuse lit, NASA is doing everything in its power to meet that demand, and that means it’s going to need a serious boost in funding.
Accelerating a mission as huge as sending humans back to the Moon means spending a lot more money in a much shorter amount of time, and NASA made that clear. Now, a new House spending bill that could have helped make the Moon mission a reality instead includes no additional allowance for NASA, raising serious questions about the mission.
Back in June, NASA once again made it clear that a Moon mission by 2024 was going to cost a lot of money it didn’t yet have. The agency suggested it would cost somewhere between $20 billion and $30 billion in additional funding to make it happen, and that meant that lawmakers would have to throw NASA a rather large bone.
The continuing resolution (CR) for government funding released by the House this week would keep the government running through late November, at which point a more detailed spending bill should be ready, allocating funding through 2020. However, there is always a risk that lawmakers won’t be able to come to an agreement, leaving the CR in place and hamstringing NASA’s efforts to fund its rapidly-approaching mission.
In the meantime, NASA will be unable to award contracts for the hardware it desperately needs for the mission and the companies that will eventually be building the crucial components are left twiddling their thumbs.
As dire as this sounds, there still time for the things to go NASA’s way. If lawmakers arrive at an agreement for future spending within the next couple of months — and if that bill includes a whole heap of extra cash for NASA — the agency could begin to set things in motion and eventually arrive at the Moon by 2024. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed.