by Douglas Messier
During the same week he pleaded with Senators to fully fund the Artemis lunar program, Jim Bridenstine signed a cooperation agreement with Italy and a key partner, Japan, moved forward with its part of the effort.
On Friday, Bridenstine “signed a joint statement of intent with Italian Undersecretary to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers Riccardo Fraccaro, representing the Italian government, articulating strong mutual interest between the two countries in pursuing Italian contributions to lunar exploration activities as part of NASA’s Artemis Program,” the agency announced in a press release.
“Today’s signing represents the latest chapter of successful cooperation between the U.S. and Italy in the area of space exploration,” Bridenstine said. “With a long history of successful collaboration in human spaceflight, as well as in Earth and space science, the Italian government’s strong support for Artemis assures this partnership will extend to cooperation in the next phase of exploration on the lunar surface.”
What that cooperation will ultimately entail was not explained. But, it was another sign that other countries are eager to join NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon.
Meanwhile, Japan is moving forward with its part of Artemis. The Asahi Shimbun reports:
The science and technology ministry’s budget request for the next fiscal year will include an ask for some 80 billion yen ($760 million) to develop key equipment for a U.S.-led, manned lunar exploration mission.
The ministry, which also oversees sports, culture and education, is aiming to accelerate the development of a new unmanned supply spacecraft, a life-support machine and other related equipment to help enable Japanese astronauts to land on the moon.
As a result of the mission, the annual budget for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is expected to rocket toward a record-high level of 280 billion yen [$2.65 billion].
Matters are not nearly as bright for NASA back at home. On Wednesday, Bridenstine was before the science subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee seeking an increase of $2.6 billion in NASA budget for fiscal year (FY) 2021 to land astronauts on the moon in 2024.
The $25.2 billion budget request includes $3.2 billion for the Human Landing System (HLS) that would take astronauts to and from the lunar surface.
At a press event earlier in the week, Bridenstine said Congress will need to come through with full funding by December, or March at the very latest, for NASA to meet the 2024 deadline.
Senators, who recently passed a $2 trillion stimulus package to help an economy devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, were largely non-committal to providing the requested budget increase.
The House of Representatives has already weighed in with a funding bill that keeps NASA”s budget flat at $22.6 billion. Only $628.2 million is provided for HLS.
Differences in the House and Senate funding bills will need to be worked out in conference committee whenever Senators gets around to passing one.
The 2021 fiscal year will begin on Oct. 1 without Congress and President Donald Trump having agreed on a budget. Congress is working to pass a continuing resolution that will keep government agencies operating at FY 2020 funding levels into December.