President Donald Trump wants NASA astronauts back on the moon in 2024—55 years after the first moon landing and 52 years since the last American mission to the moon.
But this ambitious plan is going to be costly: in the budget amendment sent to Congress on Monday, the administration requested a $1.6 billion “down payment”—in addition to the $21 billion NASA already requested for the next fiscal year.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine declined to say how much the program would cost in total.
“In the coming years, we will need additional funds,” he conceded on a media call. “But this is a good amount that gets us out of the gate in a very strong fashion and sets us up for success in the future.”
Trump announced the plan on Twitter, writing, “Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars. I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!”
Vice President Pence had initially announced the plan in March, telling members of the National Space Council, “Some will say it’s too hard, it’s too risky, it’s too expensive, but the same was said back in 1962.”
In a reference to President John F. Kennedy, Pence continued that “now as then, the United States has a president who is a dreamer, who understands that this is a challenge that once again we are unwilling to postpone and one we intend to win again.”
So what needs to happen next for this to become a reality?
Congress will need to approve the budget—but it’s unclear whether they will. This new proposal pushes up the already ambitious goal of getting back on the moon by 2028 and will likely therefore prove more costly.
Some members of Congress are already unconvinced: Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson noted the hypocrisy of pushing for more funding for a mission to the moon, while cutting science research at other agencies at a hearing earlier this month. And the American people would appear to agree with her.
A Pew Research Center poll from last year found that 63% of Americans believe NASA should focus its efforts on climate research, not sending astronauts back to the moon—only 13% considered this a top priority.
Phil Larson, a former space policy adviser under President Barack Obama, told Reuters that without Congressional buy-in, “this budget amendment is at best, a massive waste of time, and at worst, pushing risky political timelines that could set NASA back for years.”
The source of these additional funds is also a point of controversy. According to a report from the Associated Press, the administration has suggested shifting money from Pell Grants—a financial aid program for low-income college students—to fund the “down payment.” The administration nevertheless claims that it would only draw on a surplus that has resulted from a decline in enrollment in the program and would not actively cut funding for those who wish to enroll.
It remains to be seen whether Congress will approve this initial request and the subsequent funds needed to meet this ambitious plan. If it is to go forward, though, NASA says it hopes to put the first woman on the moon. The mission is fittingly called Artemis, the name of Apollo’s twin sister.