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Trump seeks further US$1.6b to return to Moon by 2024

First the Moon, then Mars - and Trump is asking Congress for a "down payment" to accelerate Nasa's programme

Washington

THE Trump administration asked Congress on Monday to increase the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (Nasa's) spending next year by an extra US$1.6 billion as a "down payment" to accommodate the accelerated goal of returning Americans to the surface of the Moon by 2024.

The increased funding request, announced by President Donald Trump on Twitter, comes nearly two months after Vice-President Mike Pence declared the objective of shortening by four years Nasa's previous timeline for putting astronauts back on the moon for the first time since 1972.

The proposed increase would bring Nasa's total spending level for the 2020 fiscal year to US$22.6 billion. The bulk of the increase is earmarked for research and development of a human lunar landing system, according to a summary provided by Nasa.

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"Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars," Mr Trump tweeted on Monday. "I am updating my budget to include an additional US$1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!" Nasa previously aimed to return crewed spacecraft to the lunar surface by 2028, after first putting a "Gateway" station into orbit around the moon by 2024.

The newly accelerated goal - an endeavour likely to cost tens of billions of dollars - comes as Nasa has struggled with the help of private partners to resume human space missions from US soil for the first time since the shuttle programme ended in 2011.

Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine called the revised funding request a "down payment of confidence" from the White House. "Our goal here is to build a programme that gets us to the moon as soon as possible," Mr Bridenstine told reporters on a telephone conference call late on Monday. "In the coming years, we will need additional funds," he said. "But this is a good amount that gets us out of the gate in a very strong fashion."

Phil Larson, a former space policy adviser under Mr Trump's Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, questioned whether Congress had fully embraced Mr Trump's ambition to speed up human lunar exploration.

"I'm worried that without proper Congressional buy-in, this budget amendment is at best, a massive waste of time, and at worst, pushing risky political timelines that could set Nasa back for years," he said. REUTERS