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2021 NASA budget request includes $3.3B for human lunar landers, $430M for Moon resource development

Darrell Etherington
NASA logo at the Kennedy Space Center. Florida

The Trump White House today issued its fiscal 2021 budget request, and it included a 12% increase in requested funding to NASA's coffers, as expected. That puts the total request for NASA at $25.2 billion, nearly half, or $12.3 billion, of which is earmarked specifically to support NASA's efforts to return to the surface of the Moon and to eventually land people on Mars.

Highlights from the proposed budget, which was issued by the Office of Management and Budget on Monday, include $3.3 billion specifically designate to develop human lunar lander systems that will be used to take astronauts to the Moon's surface from staging positions in lunar orbit. It outlines that these will rely on "competition, industry innovation and robust Government oversight" to produce safe and reliable systems for "sustainable exploration."

It also adds $4 billion for continued development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, which combined will be used to provide transportation of astronauts from Earth to the Moon. The budget specifically says that these funds will be used by the agency to "complete these systems and start to establish a regular flight cadence."

Also included in the request are $175 million for spacesuits to be used by astronauts on the surface of the Moon, along with $212 million for rovers that will be used for transportation. There's $254 million included for the Commercial Lunar Landing Services (CLPS) program through which NASA is sourcing private partners to deliver scientific and cargo payloads to the Moon's surface ahead of sending astronauts back in 2024.

A $430 million pool is included to specifically fund a "Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative," which includes the development and demonstration of technologies that will be employed to take advantage of Moon-based resources for power generation, astronaut habitats and exploration tools. These will be used to support Moon exploration, both robotic and human, according to the proposed budget, and also to then be leveraged for similar use in eventual Mars missions.

Another $529 million is set aside for the "robotic exploration of Mars," including a return mission to bring a Martian soil sample back to Earth for the first time ever, and a mission that will involve mapping water ice near the surface of the planet for the use of eventual human explorers.

Other considerations in the budget proposal include support for "new space stations" to ensure continued American presence in low Earth orbit, as well as astronaut training. It also continues to fund the X-59 supersonic flight demonstrator that NASA is developing with a target first flight of 2022, which is meant to provide a blueprint for future commercial supersonic overland passenger aircraft.

It also includes a proposed cut of a number of science missions, as well as the Office of STEM Engagement, which supports STEM activities in schools. This is not the first time the STEM office has been on the chopping block, however, and so far it has managed to survive the ax.

NASA is addressing the budget request and what it means for the administration's plans in a briefing later today. We'll provide updates about salient details as they become available.