NASA budget increase 2021, $25.2 billion for the fiscal year beginning.
President Donald Trump wants to raise NASA’s budget to $25.2 billion for the fiscal year beginning in October, an increase of 12% over the current year’s funding.
Nearly half of that total would fund activities directed toward getting humans first to the moon, then to Mars. The budget request includes $3.3 billion for human lunar landers, part of NASA’s Artemis program that aims for a lunar landing in 2024. The new documents also cut several long-targeted programs and introduce a new mission that would study ice on Mars.
These details come from materials released today (Feb. 10) by NASA and the White House Office of Management and Budget. The materials are part of the administration’s overall budget request, an annual submission to Congress that lays out the president’s vision for the federal government and begins the budgeting process. NASA’s full materials packet is available here.
“This is a 21-century budget worthy of 21st-century space exploration and one of the strongest NASA budgets in history,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a State of NASA event unveiling the budget. “If the president’s support for NASA wasn’t clear before, it sure is now.” Under Trump, NASA’s annual budget has increased from about $19 billion during his first year to $22 billion for the fiscal year that began in October, according to The Washington Post.
However, all these details come with a major caveat: The president’s budget request is just that, a request. NASA’s funding comes directly from Congress, which is not obligated to match the request in any way. That said, here’s what we know about what the administration wants to do beginning in October.
This year’s is the first budget request released since Vice President Mike Pence announced the acceleration of NASA’s moon landing goal to 2024, a change that occurred in March 2019 and prompted an amendment to Trump’s original budget request for the current fiscal year. For months, Congress has been pushing Bridenstine for details about the total estimated cost of the Artemis program and an initial schedule for milestones within that program, but he has deferred, pointing the representatives to the budgeting process.
NASA’s full document package released today marks the first such information, sort of. Most of the information provided in the budget request documents looks at the entire human exploration program or the entire moon-to-Mars program, rather than isolating the Artemis program.
For example, a table pools funding across different departments that is allocated to the moon-to-Mars program. According to that material, the program has been allotted $8.8 billion for the current year. Fiscal year 2021 would require $12.4 billion, 2022 would require $13.3 billion, 2023 would require $15.8 billion, 2024 would require $15.3 billion, and 2025 would require $13.5 billion.
Including the money that was used last year, that program’s budget plans total $87.66 billion over seven years, or an average of $12.5 billion per year. According to another NASA document released today, the administration estimates that overall NASA budgets will range from $25 billion to $29 billion through fiscal year 2025.
“NASA’s top-priority mission is to return American astronauts to the moon by 2024 and build a sustainable presence on the lunar surface as the first step on a journey that will take America to Mars,” the NASA section of an Office of Management and Budget document outlining the administration’s overall 2021 budget request read. “The budget redirects funds from lower-priority programs to fulfill the president’s promise to get Americans back to the moon.”
However, the new documents do offer new details about the timing of Artemis program flights. The first mission, an uncrewed test flight, is currently marked as under review but targeting a 2021 launch. That would mark a delay from current hopes to fly it this year, but not an unexpected one.
The crewed test flight would occur in 2022, with the first crewed lunar landing mission slated for 2024. The budget request documents then plan for one crewed mission each year from 2025 to 2030. All of these missions would fly as humans continue to live and work in orbit, with ongoing commercial cargo and crew flights supporting that presence.
The budget request supports NASA’s massive Space Launch System rocket as a backbone for deep-space exploration but postpones funding the “Block 1B” upgrade required for larger missions. That decision, the budget request said, arose because Block 1B isn’t necessary for a human lunar landing.
Congress has not displayed much enthusiasm for several of the president’s space priorities, particularly the Artemis program. The Senate and House committees that have NASA in their purview have released authorization bills — which represent big-picture priorities, not the allotment of money — neither of which require the 2024 landing deadline. The legislature has tended to favor prioritizing Mars exploration more directly and applying a more conservative timeline to the moon landing.