In a surprise budget move on Monday, President Donald Trump announced that he is asking Congress to approve an extra $1.6 billion for efforts to send American astronauts back to the moon, throwing his very public support behind NASA's plans for a manned landing on the moon in 2024, with the goal of a 'sustained presence' on the lunar surface starting as soon as 2028.
"This is the down payment @NASA needs to move forward with design, development & exploration," tweeted NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Bridenstine said the $1.6 billion would go to help fund the development on a new human lunar landing system, a robotic exploration of the polar regions of the lunar surface, and more money for the heavy lift rockets needed for a moon mission.
"Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars," President Trump said on Twitter.
Bridenstine said the mission would be named "Artemis," the sister of Apollo.
Big @NASA news! The President has submitted an FY2020 budget amendment that provides an increase of $1.6 billion for our #Moon2024 efforts. We are going.— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) May 13, 2019
Watch the video I sent to the workforce: pic.twitter.com/7kG8h4msdC
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2019
In documents released on Tuesday night, it was clear the $1.6 billion would not be cut from one area of NASA, and just transferred over to human space flight - instead, it would be a new infusion of funds, which would push the NASA budget over $22 billion, the highest level in pure dollars.
"This additional investment is a down payment on NASA’s efforts to land humans on the Moon by 2024, and is required to achieve that bold objective," the NASA budget documents stated. "It’s the boost NASA needs to move forward with design, development and exploration."
The President has clearly been interested in NASA's efforts since taking office; NASA has had a general plan to go back to the Moon and then on to Mars, but having a plan - and getting money for it - are two very different things.
The extra money for NASA, along with money for the Everglades, environmental funding for the Great Lakes, work by the Army Corps of Engineers, and extra funding for the Special Olympics were all part of the budget amendment sent by the Congress to the White House.
"These amendments are fully offset," a letter from the President read - but it wasn't immediately clear what was being cut in order to pay for the extra requested spending.
ARTEMIS: Twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the Moon. Now, the name for our #Moon2024 mission to return @NASA_Astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024, including the first woman and next man. pic.twitter.com/1K9qIloZwp— NASA (@NASA) May 13, 2019
It's not clear how much a mission to the moon would cost. The first Apollo program had a budget of close to $25 billion.
One would expect a mission in 2024 would cost much more than that - coming at a time when the federal government is straining under yearly budget deficits approaching $1 trillion.