After months of negotiations, NASA finally received a budget for 2021 that includes more funding for the Artemis Human Landing System, although not as much as requested, and the survival of several missions and programs.
President Trump proposed his budget request for 2021 back in February, but due to a combination of shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic and disagreements in what and how much should be funded, the budget was only just agreed upon this week. NASA, a small part of the national budget, received a 3% increase over last year’s budget.
This is far short of the 12% increase the current administration wanted. The President’s request increased a large amount of the budget for lunar exploration to help focus on landing American astronauts on the Moon by 2024. The President’s proposal asked for just over $3 million dollars for development of the Human Landing System, but only received about a quarter of that amount — only an increase of $250 million from the year before.
While SpaceX’s Starship vehicle is mostly privately funded, the two other landers in the competition rely on this funding to continue development. This might slow the development of these systems while also being the final dagger to push the first Artemis crewed landing on the Moon past 2024.
Within this budget, we saw Congress save several missions and programs that in the budget proposal would have seen a stop. One of these missions was the Roman Space Telescope, an inferred telescope in development since 2010, that will study the existence of dark energy and exoplanets. President Trump wanted its money to go to finishing off the long awaited James Webb Space Telescope that has been over budget and behind schedule for many years, but Congress saved the Roman Telescope for 2021.
Another program that was saved was NASA’s Stem Outreach Program, which has the goal to get K-12 students involved in NASA programs and build a diverse STEM workforce for future missions. The President wanted to shut down this program and divert the funds to other core missions, but Congress decided to keep the program and actually give it an increase from $120 million to $127 million in 2021.