House Committee Chairs Question Trump’s Proposed Moon Funding

Eddie Bernice Johnson

WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) – In late March, Vice President Mike Pence announced a new presidential directive to NASA to return humans to the surface of the moon by 2024, accelerating the mission timeline by 4 years. In order to fund the acceleration of this mission, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released an amendment to the President’s FY 2020 NASA budget proposal requesting that Congress appropriate an additional $1.6 billion for the first year of this program, now named Artemis.

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Chair Kendra Horn (D-OK) of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics issued the following statements.

“While I am a supporter of challenging human space exploration endeavors that can take us to the Moon and eventually to Mars, based on the limited information provided to Congress it is impossible to judge the merits of the President’s budget amendment,” said Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson.

“We don’t know how much money will be required in total to meet the arbitrary 2024 Moon landing deadline or how that money will be spent. We don’t know how much additional money will subsequently be required to turn the crash program to get astronauts to the Moon by 2024 into a sustainable exploration program that will lead to Mars. And we don’t know what NASA’s technical plan for its lunar program is.

“What we do know is that the President is proposing to further cut a beneficial needs-based grants program that provides a lifeline to low-income students, namely the Pell Grants program, in order to pay for the first year of this initiative—something that I cannot support. We know that over 40 percent of the $1.6 billion increase is simply to restore Exploration systems funding that was cut by the White House in NASA’s original FY 2020 budget request.

“We also now know that the budget amendment would give the NASA Administrator authority to transfer funds from NASA’s Science, Aeronautics, and Technology programs to the Moon program from this point forward simply based on the Administrator’s determination that those funds are needed ‘in support of establishment of a United States strategic presence on the Moon’—an open-ended license to raid NASA’s other important mission areas whenever NASA’s Moon program needs money.

“And most importantly, we know that a Moon program budget plan that is dependent on cancelling important NASA Science and Education programs, as this one has been, is not going to be sustainable. That said, I am going to reserve judgment on the overall Moon landing plan until Congress is provided with more concrete information on the proposed lunar initiative.”

“We’re glad to see the increase because we know that a robust human space exploration program is important,” said Chair of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, Rep. Kendra Horn. “At the same time, there are still many unanswered questions. How much will the accelerated timeline cost in total? Where exactly is that money coming from? When will we see the detailed plan?

“We also need to ensure that NASA’s exploration program isn’t funded at the expense of Pell Grants because getting Americans back to the Moon and on to Mars is going to take more scientists and engineers, not fewer. We can’t sacrifice the pathway that many middle- and low-income families use to get their kids to college.”

Editor’s Note: Three key things to note here that are non-starters:

  • raiding the Pell grant surplus for $1.6 billion for fiscal year 2020;
  • asking Congress to do so without any idea of what the overall program will cost or how it will be accomplished; and,
  • giving Administrator Jim Bridenstine the right to raid other programs to support the moon landing.

On this last point, Congress does give NASA authority to transfer small amounts of money between different accounts in its annual funding bills. But, that amount is strictly limited.

It’s not exactly clear why anyone in the Trump Administration would think that the House would go along with raiding the Pell grants, even if the program does have a surplus. It makes me wonder if this was deliberate to blame Democrats for thwarting a key presidential priority. Or perhaps it is merely a bargaining chip.

The way the supplemental request was announced in a tweet by the Twitter-happy president apparently surprised both Congress and the NASA leadership. The latter was forced to call a media telecon on Monday at 7 p.m. EDT.

  • duheagle

    As opposed to the Democrats who seem hell bent on seeing to it we don’t have one.

    Seriously, the biggest “thefts from the future” are the Social Security and Medicare systems as currently constituted. Both were the invention of Democrats. Fixing both is possible, but will be opposed every step of the way by the same Democrats who baked doom into the recipes for both.

  • Robert G. Oler

    why should they support it? it has no chance of working AND the GOP SLS fans have no chance ot losing SLS shich means yet again it has no chance of working plus if Trump is gone in 2020…so is this

  • duheagle

    I hope both of us are still around in 2024 so I can provide you the horselaugh you’re going to so richly deserve.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    I suspect the main reason the rovers do not have ECLSS is money. The LER were designed to be low cost test beds and only used on Earth. They were built to test mechanical things like the motors and robotic arms. Designing chemical parts like CO2 scrubbers was someone else’s job. Presumably when an actual lunar/Mars version was needed a life support team would have been set up.

  • Robert G. Oler

    so I notice you dont mention any product made by humans in space…you seem to think (correct me if I am wrong here) that the theory of being the second person on the moon would be enough to get someone to try that.

    I dont think so…but say it does…then what? does the guy/comapny/country just keep spending money to go?

  • duheagle

    Trump isn’t going to be gone in 2020, but the Dem House most likely is.

    And NASA and the Program of Record – even the new Program of Record – isn’t the only route to an all-American lunar return by 2024.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I think SpaceX will have a human rated capsule mid 2020…but one that lands on the moon by 2024… no

  • Robert G. Oler

    the Chinese are in no danger off under populating

  • duheagle

    I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if you are right. That’s the sort of half-assed thinking the has kept NASA from accomplishing any BEO human spaceflight since 1972.

  • Robert G. Oler

    no they are learning the technical sciences because the Chinese believe in paying for those degrees…

  • Robert G. Oler

    we will see..I am sure he will be alive but he is right now the weakest relect in my lifetime

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    I can accept test rovers and habitats not having an ECLSS. I am not happy that a shed somewhere was not built to test a full ECLSS rated for 2 weeks.

  • duheagle

    Well, that’s at least a tad more rational even if still not adequately in touch with reality.

    D2 will be fixed before the end of 3Q 2019. But it won’t be landing on the Moon in 2024 or at any other time.

    That will be the mission of SHS, which will first fly in 2020, busy itself with Starlink deployments for a number of missions as a fleet is built out, then, when enough vehicles exist, go around the Moon – unmanned at first – by 2022. Dear Moon will follow, then landings of pre-positioned cargo, then crewed landings. The first crew mission will certainly depart by 2024 – very possibly earlier.

    It’s even possible BO will be doing missions based on NG and BM by 2024 though that is less certain, but still likelier than not. Bezos has more money, but Musk will be able to land more people and mass in the early going. Going to be fun to watch.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    I suspect that a plug and play full ECLSS needs developing. Able to be fitted to space station modules, lunar habitat modules, lander cabin and crewed rovers.

  • Robert G. Oler

    enjoy fantasy island. its really amazing to me at least how the Trump and Musk people simply are able to create a reality of their own, and kind of stick to it or explain its failure away

    but it is at least fun to watch. anyway off to the UK and back…latter

  • redneck

    I was focused on your last question as to what progress I have seen.

    Second to be first refers to a business, not a person. It’s along the lines of drafting in racing. The leader in the field goes down the wrong alleys and wrong turns on the way to breaking new ground. The second in can avoid many of the pitfalls that were revealed by the leader as well as using the known new techniques. The cost of entry has been lowered such that the second can often out-compete due to a lower investment. Hoverslam for instance, can be duplicated even without insider info, and without breaking as many vehicles.

    I know you are going to play whack a mole on humans in space, but I’m going to address it anyway.

    As for humans in space, it all comes back to affordability. At this time there are a few rich people that would be willing to pay current prices for a couple of weeks in space if the service were available. Cut prices by a factor of ten on a readily available service, and there would be many more tourists/spaceflight participants. Cut prices by another factor of ten and there will be many many more. As for what they do, Vegas, Playboy, and Hollywood are in three separate major industries the produce no physical product to speak of. If the price is right, people will want to go. At $500.00 pound for launch costs, it is roughly $100,000.00 for transportation costs to move the flesh to orbit.

    Beyond tourists, there are a number of possibilities. Dougspace suggests retirement centers on the moon with the lower gravity enhancing the remaining years of life. That implies medical and care taking staff. Some construction will need to be hands on in the early days for the things robots can’t do yet. A farside telescope may need some hammer persuasion to get erected or deployed. There are some that will wish to prospect in the belief that they will find what robots won’t. There will be forms of archaeology on any planet thought to have once harbored life.

    In general there are people that want to go, and will latch onto some reason to do it. That reason doesn’t have to be one either you or I would agree on as long as the reason is good enough for them and they can find the necessary to pursue it. Cathouses are mentioned time to time, and I am sure that some would find that irresistible, as would the employees making big bucks., I would find that last ridiculous, but I’m not the target market.

  • duheagle

    That’s wishful thinking talking, not rational observation. As I’ve observed repeatedly, here and elsewhere, the Dems aren’t going to beat something with nothing and nothing is pretty much what they’ve got.

    Most of the announced Dem “field” for 2020 are obvious and abject clowns. The few “serious” candidates all have more baggage than Elizabeth Taylor used to travel with.

    If you want to talk weakness going into a re-election campaign, Carter easily outpoints Trump.

    If you insist on a Republican, Bush 43 in 2004, frankly, was a lot weaker a candidate for re-election than Trump is now. But, as with Trump in 2020, the Dems didn’t have anyone good to run against him. The “best” they could do was Kerry.

    The “best” they can do now is probably Biden whose greatest advantage over Kerry is that he’s not a nose-in-the-air aristocrat who can’t even come close to hiding his disdain for “little people.” Kerry has always had a seriously major case of resting bitch face.

    But being the “leader” this early, as Biden now is, has tended to be the kiss of death in recent Presidential election cycles so it’s hardly a slam dunk “Uncle Joe” will actually wind up on the ballot.

    And it isn’t as though he hasn’t tried running for President before. He failed to get the nomination either time, losing in 1988 to the godawful Mike Dukakis and in 2008 to both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This time could well be the hat trick.

    It’s hard to see what makes him worthy of nomination this time except that he’s actually the best the Dems have – scary thought. It certainly isn’t because of all his extra experience since 1988 and 2008 – what did he do during the Obama administration again?

    Maybe Mayor de Blasio will luck out, though the giggles that attended the almost-candidacy of another self-important Dem mayor of a major American city – Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles – doesn’t provide a hopeful portent. Still, he could be a good compromise between the Hillary Clinton-led Flagrant Crook wing of the party and the AOC-led Bug-Eyed Whacko Socialist wing of the party given that he’s both.

    To compensate for the fact that he’s old, white and male, he could try appealing to the Female, Anti-Semite and Identity Politics caucuses of the Dem Party by choosing Rep. Ilhan Omar as his Veep, though, since she is foreign-born, she would be constitutionally ineligible for the job. But, heck, Democrats aren’t big on the Constitution or Rule of Law anyway.

    The Dems current problem is the same one they’ve had for better than half my life – they have no “bench.” Clinton and Obama were both sui generis and came out of nowhere, did their things, and left the Party in worse shape than it was before. I think both Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg fancy themselves Bill/Barack redux, but few others seem to share their high opinions of themselves.

    Democrats have a long history of psyching themselves up for what they imagine to be inevitable victory only to find themselves with their guts in their hands when they are disemboweled on election day. 2020 is shaping up to be another such go-around.

  • duheagle

    Good idea. Make them small enough that two is the minimum configuration for even a lander or rover cabin. Bigger volumes could be handled by use of multiple ECLSS modules. That would allow for a round-robin maintenance schedule that never requires taking down the whole ECLSS and would provide fault-tolerance in operation like all those engines do on an F9 or FH and will again on an SHS.

  • duheagle

    You and me both. Oh well, both Musk and Bezos are serious about BEO settlement – unlike NASA – so we’ll have decent ECLSS soon enough.

  • duheagle

    Well, we’ve each had our says. It won’t be too awfully long before we have some pretty solid early indications as to which of us is the more correct.

  • P.K. Sink

    I hope. Meanwhile…I hope that all the contractors and subcontractors that want a piece of this plan will lean heavy on their congresspersons to fund this bad boy.

  • duheagle

    Correct. They aren’t cozening a third of their youth population into majoring in Lesbian Dance Theory and Rap Appreciation on borrowed money, then turning them into debt peons when they can’t pay it back. Fortunately, it looks as though that particular lunacy will have run its course even here soon.

    But the relatively small number of young Chinese – even the elite fraction with useful educations – is going to find it increasingly difficult to pay the freight for the tsumani of retired oldsters now making Chinese landfall. The regime will need all the valuta they can generate with that expensively-acquired knowledge and more besides.

    Some will, doubtless, want to leave for greener pastures. The regime is unlikely to allow this to any great extent or possibly at all. Making enemies of its best and brightest is probably not going to be a good career move for the mandarins of the PRC. The U.S. Founding Fathers, after all, were the well-educated elite of their own day, but without any significant political influence in the ruling regime of the time. That didn’t work out too well for said regime, but it’ll be a walk in the park compared to what awaits Xi and company not too far down the road.

  • duheagle

    They’re already seriously underpopulated in the younger population cohorts. That’s what comes of 40 years of One Child Policy. There’s a major gender imbalance as well, making the size of future generations, even with the rescinding of the One Child Policy, quite problematic. China will have, at best, essentially zero population growth for the next 30 – 40 years. Depending upon how well, or poorly, they handle the rapid increase in average age of the Chinese citizenry, that could easily go negative.

  • duheagle

    I agree with quite a lot of this.

    Ending the federal student loan program would end the mass seeking of useless degrees. It would also radically shrink a vastly overbuilt, and even more over-staffed, higher education infrastructure. We need to close a lot of universities and, at the rest, we need to defenestrate most of the administrative staffs including absolutely every official who has the word “diversity” in his or her or xis or zhur job title.

    If we want Americans to study STEM, we also need to end the H-1B visa program. We should try to attract talented and well-educated foreigners, not as indentured servants but as full citizens. The hordes of H-1B visa peons now laboring in the groves of tech-ademe artificially depress the wages of American STEM practitioners just as the influx of illegals has adversely affected the wages of lower-income Americans.

    There’s no need for a lot of government incentives to “steer” people into this or that field – just get rid of all the existing distortions to the education and labor markets and all that will sort itself out as it did before all this kudzu of government intervention/subsidy/”preferences” was stood up.

  • duheagle

    There’s not much logic in what you say. If a lot of Physics/Astro grads wind up working in other technical fields, why not just make the likely job prospects – or lack of same – explicit up front. Do that, and a lot of them will likely seek degrees in those other fields to begin with. That would benefit fields with better job prospects and do no harm to Physics/Astro.

  • duheagle

    People with a literal lack of vision have no ability to really grasp concepts such as color in the way sighted people do, but that doesn’t generally result in the blind refusing to believe that sighted people have abilities they lack.

    People with a complete lack of metaphorical vision have analogous deficiencies but, for some reason, a significant fraction of them also seem to disbelieve that anyone else is actually possessed of such a gift.

    Go figure.

  • Lee

    Because… shocker… people actually change their minds on what they want to do. Not everyone knows from birth (like you and I did) what they want to do for the rest of their lives. However, not having a Physics/Astro degree, I wouldn’t expect you to know how well those prepare you for any career you would want. But I’m sure Andrew knows exactly what I am talking about. It doesn’t hurt Astronomy in any way to train an astronomer and then have them go into a different high tech field. Everybody wins.

  • duheagle

    I think there is certainly a reasonable case to be made that the Internet, as we’ve come to know it, actually does date from Vin Cerf’s Internet Protocol and its early implementations. IP “went live” in 1982.

    The earlier Arpanet used an entirely different, and not very extensible, protocol. I know little about it but it apparently had a very limited node address space. As someone who has been involved in computing for a half-century, I have observed that a frequently repeated theme in computer science is almost everything being initially designed with far too small an address space.

    The CDC 6500, for example, had a main memory address that was 18 bits long. There was no direct addressability of individual bytes – which were 6 bits wide by the way – only of 60-bit words.

    Early personal computers had 16-bit address spaces, which proved inadequate almost immediately. Later models used processors with 32-bit address spaces and those proved barely more forward-looking. IPv4’s 32-bit address has also long since become a problem which has been “solved” with various kludges.

    So it goes.

  • duheagle

    I think the government – the US. military in particular – will be the biggest early customer of space industrialism, but not the only one even then. Initial efforts will be small, analogous to the Viking settlement of Greenland or the temporary encampments sometimes set up by Irish and Breton fisherman working the Grand Banks centuries before Columbus. But both Musk and Bezos have considerably more resources than Eric the Red or the Bretons and will have still more by the time the earliest missions take place. They will use the wealth generated by more conventional businesses to get off-world business infrastructure to the point where it can become self-perpetuating

    Not that it won’t take awhile to build out significant industry on the Moon. From Columbus to the Louisiana Purchase was more than three centuries. I think things will go much more quickly anent the Moon, and then other places in the Solar System, but it will still be the work of decades to have even a million people living in space. Long before that, though, a space economy large and varied enough to keep growing and variegating on its own will have reached critical mass. I think it could happen by mid-century.

  • duheagle

    I have no interest in the subject strong enough to justify the waste of three hours. The fate of the 737 MAX or even of the entire Boeing Company is not a matter which strikes me as impinging significantly on the future of the Republic.

  • redneck

    I know very little about the H1B class foreign workers. This comment is about people considered low skill.

    In my local area, there are several jobs that wouldn’t get done if companies were not using foreign born, illegal or not. During the recession we worked on a fruit company owned apartment complex for for H2S (?) temporary workers. I talked to the fruit company manager about the costs of the Mexican fruit pickers. They spent bout $1,500.00 each on processing them in. Supplied transportation from Mexico to here and housing while they were here. Were required to make sure they made at least minimum wage. And had to transport them back at the end of the season.

    They would not have gone to all this trouble and expense if they could have hired local workers. Unemployment was 25% in this county and the companies had repeatedly tried to get picking crews locally without success. With thousands unemployed locally, perhaps fifty would show up day one and a handful day two. People getting “free” government assistance were not willing to do the job that would modestly boost their income.

    So locally for low skill, I disagree that illegals have depressed wages. Wages are depressed for people that will not develop a marketable skill set. I see many that have been lied to their whole lives into thinking that the world owes them a living. With that mindset, they do not seek education or experience that allows them to provide value to others. In many cases, the bureaucrats that make a living from keeping people dependent are a far higher cause of low wages and unemployment than anything the foreign born do. There are many stories of firms like McDonalds specifically hiring people on “assistance” because they can get away with paying low wages.

    I am not for open borders or letting in everybody that wants a free ride. I am in favor of fixing our own problems such that people are incentivized to improve themselves instead of holding them down.My people are mostly foreign born and earn well above the local average. because they are worth it. I went through a lot of citizens that wouldn’t try to perform, mostly because they do not understand the relationship between productive work and the paycheck. There are a boatload of people in this country that need an acquaintance with a cluebat.

    Bottom line is it is difficult to staff most companies right now with citizens. Truck drivers, mechanics, construction workers, and most physical trades . are experiencing a shortage of workers. There are plenty of warm bodies outside the work force that could fill those positions if they wanted to and were not getting a check not to. Blaming illegals has some truth in some cases, but this is mostly a self inflicted wound.

    Just as in spaceflight, a good start for a cure would be to quit subsidizing non-performance. Same for college, if the institution thinks the young people have such great job prospects, let them assume the risk to finance the degrees. Anyone that wants to learn just for the knowledge doesn’t need the university system anyway if they will just focus. Books, internet, and access to knowledgeable people are enormously cheaper than just a few decades ago.

  • Robert G. Oler

    For all I know you are correct. you make “good sounding” arguments and I USE to believe them and write op eds and give speeches about the same thing

    II dont however believe it any more.

    I’ll start here

    “As for humans in space, it all comes back to affordability.” I dont think it does…at least not solely. Affordability has to be “part” of it because affordability is one of the legs that defines access. and you are right (it seems) that the lower the cost of access the more people can get access and in fact more will try.

    But and it is a big one, I wonder how low affordability has to go for the tide to change from near nothing to something substantial or at least definative?

    Alaska and the South Pole and for that matter Sudan are affordable in terms of access…yet there is no real rush of people trying to go there and live on a perm basis…there is a brisk tourist trade…

    so ok the question comes up, if this is a true parallel…how low does space access have to go until we start seeing some kind of tourist activity on a significant scale?

    My guess is that Virgin is going to give us the first glimpse at that pretty soon.

    but one thing I notice about the tourist trade..is that for the most part the tourist mechanisms are pretty well heeled, have near zero real danger to them …and are very temporary. …and have a very low price.

    So I think the virgindeal will tell us some about tourism…the prices are quite “low” for a certain group of people…the views and activities are long enough to be exciting but short enough to not be boring…and the big difference is that there is some real dangers.

    then we can see. I dont think that any major space settlements or anything else will happen until something is found in space some process or something that supports humans in it…

    and I dont think that the service industry is it… but we will all see

    so far 50 years since Apollo…nothing

  • Robert G. Oler

    as are as it goes that is a fairly “dull statement”

    coming from a Trumper any talk of vision is nearly absurd. they are after all following a man whose “vision” is totally about lies.

    a rough definition of “vision” is achieving goals that make the future different from the past in “good” ways unimaginable before they were accomplished.

    leaving home in Pristina coming to the US and becoming a doctor…is vision. leaving your home in central America and doing whatever it takes to get to the US and forge a life here…is vision.

    designing a city on Mars that 1) has no chance of happening and 2) is unsupportable by any measure other than hope…is what children do to be amused.

    and to make that effort seem more than it is, they then invent things like “the rocket will go around the moon in two years 🙂

  • redneck

    Some people want to experience extended zero gravity and others want to experience the overview effect. The size and vector of the market will become clearer in the next few years.

    I have tried whisky twice in my life and dislike it intensely. I had nine beers last year. I can’t understand why anyone would have alcohol as a major focus in their life. Whether I understand it or not, fact remains that for many millions of people it is THE focus of their lives, and for hundreds of millions it is part of what makes life worthwhile. With space, as with alcohol, it is not necessary to understand why people want it as long as it is understood that they do.

  • Robert G. Oler

    again you could be correct…I use to make those arguments…I did it for over 20 years I just dont do it any more…they stopped making sense to me awhile back

    the argument boiled down to the foundation is this “space is so ge whiz supper that just “being there” is in itself enough”.|

    there is doubtless some group of people, size to me unknown who I suspect would buy into this.

    I have a reasonable amount of microgravity experience ( commander the Vomet Comet and a lot of floater time). I also have scubaed most of my life (well since 14) . I have some serious discussions with a reasonable amount of Americans and Russians who have spent time on the station.

    there might be a “very large” group of people who would just buy into the premise. I bet there is not

    I loved the CVN…(and all together have spent about 8 years aboard one). I would not want to live there permanently…it is to small, life aboard one is very regulated and after awhile you know the entire “boat” backwards and forwards…and yes I got to fly the F14 on a semi daily or mostly daily basis. I was quite happy to get back to normal life when the cruise was over.

    I have plans to this summer or next (probably next because this summer is going to be that of airline expansion and PBN changes) climb Ari. (Mount Ararat) but I would not even remotely plan on living there or staying for any length of time.

    as best I know no one sales “be a guy or gal on an oil rig for two weeks”

    If the numbers were large…I suspect Bigelow would already have a station in orbit .. 🙁

  • Saturn1300

    Remember Bob Hoover.

  • Robert G. Oler

    yes I do…unclear what this has to do with the Max however

  • duheagle

    Granted. I, for example, didn’t know I wanted to be a computer programmer until I got to college. There’s always a certain amount of fuzziness to these matters.

    But if an academic department is consistently turning out twice as many graduates as the field can employ, I smell an effort by self-interested academics to keep their enrollments and departmental headcounts up for pecuniary reasons.

  • duheagle

    The trophy for presidential whoppers was pretty well retired by Obama who lied about Obamacare, Benghazi, shipping guns to Mexican cartels, taking hundreds of millions in foreign money to get elected twice and a lot of other examples we all recall.

    What comparable excursions from the truth can we attribute to the Orange Man? Calling Trump a liar is like calling him a Russian colluder. Easy to say, but counterfactual and not rendered true via repetition.

  • Lee

    Who cares? As long as the students end up in productive high tech jobs, what does it matter what their major was?

  • Robert G. Oler

    Oh please…stop with the Benghazi nonesense. Trump has been lying since his comments on his inagural crowd size…Mexico is not paying for the wall and China is not paying for the tarrifs. Trump is the biggest liar in politics.