As President Trump tweeted that he wants the U.S. to “return to Space in a BIG WAY!,” the White House updated its 2020 budget request Monday to include more money for a 21st century trip to the moon.
The administration is asking for an additional $1.6 billion for NASA as part of an effort to move up the target date for landing astronauts on the lunar surface to 2024, four years earlier than Vice President Mike Pence proposed two months ago.
NASA will receive $21.5 billion in 2019 and Trump’s original 2020 budget request in March called for cutting that to $21 billion, but the administration is now seeking $22.6 billion, a difference of $1.6 billion. NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said the money would be just “a down payment” on the moon project, which will require additional funds in the coming years.
The White House said that the extra money for the project in 2020 would come from a $1.9 billion pool of surplus Pell Grant funds, which are used to help low-income students pay for higher education. Administration officials claimed that reprogramming the money would not harm existing Pell Grant participants. Enrollment in the Pell Grant program has declined since 2009, the Associated Press reported, and the system has had a budgetary surplus since 2012.
One eye on the election? Trump’s original budget request was widely seen as dead on arrival and there’s little reason to think this week’s amendment will be any different. Roll Call’s John T. Bennet said that politics are likely playing a role in the White House’s latest move given NASA’s substantial presence in Florida and Texas, states Trump needs to win in 2020. The amended budget request also includes additional funds for an Army Corps of Engineers project in the Everglades and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which could play well in key swing states including Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.