By space-exploration measures, 2024 is right around the corner. To make that goal, NASA would need to launch astronauts inside a crew capsule (that is still being tested) on a giant rocket (that has never flown before) to a floating station around the moon (that doesn’t yet exist) and drop them to the surface in lunar-specific spacesuits (that don’t exist either). In Greek mythology, Artemis and Apollo are twins, but while the Apollo-era missions were fed with a massive budget, this new Artemis mission is off to a smaller start.
The Trump administration’s budget request, with that $1.6 billion tacked on, will go to Congress, which decides how much to give the agency. The money, officials say, will go toward boosting the work NASA is already doing, such as developing the crew capsule and rocket designed to carry astronauts toward the moon. But is it enough?
Read: Why Trump wants to go to the moon so badly
Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, calls it a “down payment.” “In the coming years, we will need additional funds,” Bridenstine told reporters. “But this is a good amount that gets us out of the gate in a very strong fashion.”
He didn’t say how much the agency would need in the next fiscal year, or the one after that, but he did acknowledge that the $1.6 billion request is at “the low end” of what the agency needs to hit its 2024 target.
Despite these financial realities, the Trump administration insists that the mission is feasible. We’ve already been to the moon, the message goes, we can do it again. Supporters point out that just eight years elapsed between John F. Kennedy’s declaration to go to the moon and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the surface—and that was without the technology NASA has now.
To which critics respond, We’ve already gone to the moon. Why do it again?
According to Vice President Mike Pence, the same reason as last time—national pride and duty. “The rules and values of space, like every great frontier, will be written by those who have the courage to get there first and the commitment to stay,” the vice president said when announcing the mission this spring.
President Trump has also shown interest in speeding up certain space efforts in an apparent attempt to bolster his legacy. Not long after his inauguration, he asked the acting NASA administrator whether the agency could land Americans on the surface of Mars before the end of his first term—“if we sent NASA’s budget through the roof,” as he put it, “but focused entirely on that instead of whatever else you’re doing now.” Just a few months ago, the administration was eyeing a 2028 moon landing, before moving the deadline way up.
This new budget request falls short of the “through the roof” threshold: Space-policy experts say the new proposal is modest. “It’s hard to imagine that much money wouldn’t give them the kick start they need,” says Jared Zambrano-Stout, an aerospace consultant and a former chief of staff for the White House National Space Council, which sets the agenda for NASA.