Cost of Moon Landing Estimated at $20 to $30 Billion

Jim Bridenstine (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

CNN talked to the NASA administrator about the cost of landing astronauts on the moon by 2024.

>The space agency will need an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion over the next five years for its moon project, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told CNN Business on Thursday. That would mean adding another $4 billion to $6 billion per year, on average, to the agency’s budget, which is already expected to be about $20 billion annually.

Bridenstine’s remarks are the first time that NASA has shared a total cost estimate for its moon program, which is called Artemis (after the Greek goddess of the moon) and could send people to the lunar surface for the first time in half a century. NASA wants that mission to include two astronauts: A man and the first-ever woman to walk on the moon.

The $20 to $30 billion cost estimate is less expensive than some had predicted — though they’re not necessarily the final figures. Bridenstine acknowledged that spaceflight can be dangerous and unpredictable, so it’s practically impossible to settle on an accurate price tag.

“We’re negotiating within the administration,” he said. “We’re talking to [the federal Office of Management and Budget]; we’re talking to the National Space Council.” (The National Space Council is a recently revived policy development group headed by Vice President Mike Pence.)

Assuming the amount is indeed all new funds and doesn’t include what’s already being spent on Orion, SLS and other programs, the only way to meet the deadline would be through a combination of increases to NASA’s budget and cuts to other parts of the space agency’s budget.

It should be noted that members of the House, which is controlled by Democrats, have thus far rejected significant cuts in other NASA programs as they have worked through the space agency’s fiscal year 2020 budget. The Republican Senate has not weighed in yet.

The other thing the story suggests is that the $1.6 billion in supplemental spending the Administration has requested for NASA’s budget is likely too low. Especially if the Senate follows the House’s lead in rejecting cuts from other agency programs.