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Trump's NASA budget proposal for 2021 soars to $25 billion

The proposed 2021 funding targets lander systems, moon surface activities and robotic Mars missions, but removes support for STEM engagement.

NASA is aiming for the moon and Mars.

The White House has unveiled its NASA budget proposal for fiscal 2021, aiming to fund the space agency with $25.2 billion for the year. About half of that amount, or nearly $13 billion, would go to programs leading toward crewed missions to the moon later this decade, seen as a precursor to eventual missions to Mars.

In addition, $6.3 billion would go to science, including Earth science and astrophysics; $3.5 billion would fund safety, security and mission services as well as construction and environmental remediation; $1.6 billion would go to exploration technology; and $819 million would be earmarked for aeronautics research. 

"The reinforced support from the president comes at a critical time as we lay the foundations for landing the first woman and the next man on the South Pole of the Moon by 2024," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement Monday. "This budget keeps us firmly on that path."

NASA's Artemis program aims to put humans back on the moon in 2024. The White House budget says NASA should then "build a sustainable presence on the lunar surface as the first steps" toward a crewed Mars mission. For these goals, the White House is proposing $3.4 billion for NASA to develop lander systems, $700 million for moon surface activities and $233 million for robotic Mars missions. The Space Launch System rocket, Orion crew capsule, Lunar Gateway orbital station and commercial lunar landers for humans and cargo delivery are listed as part of this effort.

"The budget funds the Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative," the document, published Monday, says, "including technologies to generate power, excavate and construct structures on the moon and help astronauts live off the land."

The budget proposal represents an increase of around 12% from the current fiscal year.

The proposed spending for NASA is part of the White House's overall budget proposal for federal agencies for fiscal year 2021, which begins in October. The proposal is subject to amendment and approval by Congress.

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These are all still preliminary steps in a longer timeline of missions to the moon and to Mars.

"From the Gateway in lunar orbit, astronauts will need a Human Landing System to ferry them to and from the moon's surface," NASA tweeted Monday. "Development of this 'critical element of the Artemis architecture' is funded in the 2021 fiscal budget."

Looking out toward Mars, the budget proposes funding a new Mars Ice Mapper mission to look for possible landing sites, and a Mars Sample mission to investigate launching from Mars.

Also listed in the budget to receive funding are the X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology flight demonstrator, intended to fly in 2022; research on integrating drones into space activities; and ultra-fast hypersonic flight and hybrid jet engine systems for airliners.

Under the White House's proposal, NASA is getting no funding for its Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope; the Office of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, engagement; the SOFIA telescope; and two earth science missions. "The budget continues to support education activities such as internships and fellowships funded outside of the Office of STEM engagement," the document says.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has also been focusing on the US Space Force, the newly created sixth branch of the nation's military. Space is central to "America's national security and defense," President Donald Trump said last year, and is "the next war-fighting domain."

Originally published Feb. 10, 1 p.m. PT.
Updates, 1:56 p.m. PT: Adds more details from NASA's budget documents; Feb. 11: Adds comment from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Correction: This story initially misstated the amount of funds being proposed for the Mars and moon campaigns as part of NASA's overall budget for fiscal 2021, as well as the timing for the budget's approval.