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Sending astronauts back to the moon is one of the top space priorities of President Donald Trump. But it won’t occur until after he leaves office, even if he wins re-election. And his administration wants to accomplish that without giving Nasa additional money.
Instead, it aims to give the private sector a greater role, according to a budget proposal to be released Monday.
The administration is also looking to end US payments for the International Space Station by 2025. The space station is scheduled to operate through 2024, but the expectation was that it would be extended through at least 2028.
According to excerpts from Nasa documents obtained by The New York Times before the budget’s release, the administration will propose $19.9 billion in spending for the space agency in fiscal year 2019, which begins October 1. That is a $370 million increase from the current year, the result of the budget deal reached in Congress last week and signed by Trump.
The budget numbers were confirmed by a person who was not authorized to talk publicly about them.
In future years, the administration would like Nasa’s spending to drop to $19.6 billion and stay flat through 2023. With inflation, Nasa’s buying power would erode, effectively a budget cut each year.
But the proposal is just an opening bid. Congress decides the final spending numbers, sometimes adjusting them or ignoring a president’s priorities. But an administration’s wishes are often incorporated.
The Trump administration is looking to trim the budget of Nasa’s earth science directorate, which includes climate research, and cancel several spacecraft. The nearly $1.8 billion budget for that part of Nasa would be about 6.5 percent lower than what was enacted for fiscal year 2017.
Scott Pace of the National Space Council, which coordinates space policy between military and civilian agencies, suggested that money needed to be freed up for new initiatives.
For Nasa to push human spaceflight further, he said, “the kinds of commitment of resources that traditionally we’ve done in low-earth orbit, we can direct some of that toward deeper space exploration.”
The budget proposal allocates $150 million in 2019 to encourage commercial development in low-Earth orbit.
For astronauts, the goal is still to reach “the vicinity of the moon” in 2023. That is the current schedule for the first crewed launch of the Space Launch System, which would fly around the moon but not land.