What does the new proposed budget mean for NASA?
President Trump's budget for NASA in 2020 has been released, totaling 20.5 billion dollars. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine says the budget will help NASA return humans to the moon and eventually a journey to Mars. He says that this budget allows for the return of humans to the moon with landers compatible with the proposed Lunar Gateway that can go back and forth on the surface of the moon. This Lunar Gateway is an idea to create a moon-orbiting outpost that would serve as a station for research and eventual missions to Mars. Bridenstine has said that the Gateway is covered by the 2020 budget proposal. The first pieces of the Gateway were set to launch via the Space Launch System Rocket, or SLS, but the budget suggests a delay in the funding of the SLS which means that the parts could be launched be commercial rockets. The proposal does, however, include the funds to add a power and propulsion element to the system by 2022 and components that will support humans by 2024. Bridenstine said that the president has given the Space Policy Directive 1 which says to go back to the moon maybe in 2019 but at least by 2020. Once the Gateway is in place, NASA anticipates an international collaboration similar to the ISS. The Gateway would allow the countries to utilize the resources of the moon, such as the millions of tons of water-ice found on the moon.
The budget also provides full funding for the already delayed 2021 launch of the James Webb telescope. I plan to make a post similar to the one about the Parker Solar Probe soon, so get ready for more info about the James Webb telescope.
The budget also provided funding for an exciting mission to bring home cached Martian soil samples packed by the 2020 Mars mission. This sample return mission could launch as early as 2026 and will bring home Martian soil for study in terrestrial labs. The funding for the 2020 mission allows for not just the sample-caching rover, but also a helicopter designed to work in the thin Martian atmosphere. The sample-recover mission will be quite difficult to design because of the necessity of lifting off of Mars' strong gravity and navigating back to earth. If successful, it will be the first mission to successfully land AND return from any planet in the solar system.
The budget is not all good news, though. The budget proposes the cancellation of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey telescope(WFIRST) and two earth science missions. In the 2019 budget, President Trump had tried to cut funding to the WFIRST but in the end Congress granted the funding needed to stay on track for a 2025 launch. This year, they might not be so lucky. The reasoning behind this cut is the completion of the James Webb Space Telescope. Like I mentioned above, this product has already been delayed and is over budget. The decrease of funds from the WFIRST would allow for completion and launch of the JWST. The two earth science missions proposed to be ended are the PACE and the CLARREO missions. However, the budget is proposing to restore funding to 2 earth science missions that were cut last year, the DSCO and the OCO-3. As a result of the increased funding for the MoontoMars program, the earth-based missions are taking the hit, but I think everyone will end up being ok with that once the Moon to Mars program is successful.
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