Trump aims for moon, pulls back on space station and telescopes

15 February, 2018, 07:08 | Author: Rolando Keller
  • NASA Budget Proposal for 2019 Includes Plans to Privatize the ISS

The Trump administration aims to privatize the International Space Station by 2025, redirecting NASA's investment in the orbiting laboratory complex toward a lunar exploration program.

The White House's budget request for the fiscal year ending in September 2019 - which is set to be released Monday - will ask for $150 million "to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS-potentially including elements of the ISS-are operational when they are needed". Mike Suffredini, a former space station program manager for NASA who now runs Axiom Space in Houston and aims to establish the world's first commercial space station cautioned that the USA government needs to have a direct hand in the International Space Station until it comes down. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who rocketed into orbit in 1986, said "turning off the lights and walking away from our sole outpost in space" makes no sense. The U.S. has spent over $100 billion to build and operate the space station.

Private businesses already have a hand in operating the space station.

The ISS is not exclusively a Nasa project - Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada are all involved, as are several private companies.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which represents companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin, was open to the proposal, but said defunding the station before 2028 "would not allow sufficient time" for a private-sector transition.

A three-tonne supply of food, fuel and supplies was just launched for the three Americans, two Russians and one Japanese astronaut now residing in the ISS. These commercial flights will represent the first astronaut launches from USA soil since NASA's shuttles stopped flying.

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Private companies have made it clear that they are not yet prepared to be fully involved with the station by the time USA funding ends in 2024.

The reason the Trump administration is taking a go-slow approach to the return to the moon is that it is unwilling to increase NASA's budget in any way for the foreseeable future. NASA sends probes out into space. The end of the shuttle program prompted NASA to turn over the business of supplying the station to private firms.

At first, $10.5 billion will be funded to NASA in the 2019 fiscal year, which will start on October 1st, to make the preparations for a human exploration of the Moon, as a step forward towards the exploration of Mars, and beyond.

"In short, we are once again on a path to return to the Moon with an eye toward Mars".

Now, the Trump administration wants to push that public-private partnership even further to encourage "the emergence of an environment in (low-Earth orbit) where NASA is one of many customers of a non-governmental human space flight managed and operated enterprise, while providing a smooth and uninterrupted transition", the document said. A test launch of this system would remain on track for 2020, with a first crewed launch around the moon three years later, according to budget details.

Hertz also added that only way to preserve the US space agency's ability to meet the established target cost and deliver the project on time is to maintain progress against the existing plan, should Congress decide against Trump's proposal to eliminate WFIRST. The mission's estimated cost is somewhere between $3.2 and $3.9 billion.

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