President Trump may not want to gut NASA, but he’s not going out of his way to help the space agency get to Mars, help Elon Musk do the same, or develop the cislunar economy in orbit above Earth.
Trump’s proposed budget for NASA earmarks some $19.5 billion for the space agency, but doesn’t add any extra funding for a Mars mission, and Elon Musk says that’s a mistake.
The founder of SpaceX tweeted out his dissatisfaction with Trump’s NASA budget this week complaining about the lack of additional funds for manned space exploration, according to CNBC.
“This bill changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars.
“Perhaps there will be some future bill that makes a difference for Mars, but this is not it.”
Trump’s so-called “skinny budget,” because it lacks specific details, largely maintains the status quo for NASA and avoids major cuts for the space agency, unlike other federal programs facing the axe.
It calls for continued funding for an already-planned manned Mars mission by 2033, dumps Obama’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), and calls on the space agency to make plutonium 238, nuclear fuel that powers deep space probes.
It also calls for NASA to lead research and technology development into hypersonic aircraft and declares that the space agency’s purpose is to “search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.”
It also calls for an end to NASA’s Office of Education, PACE research into Earth’s oceans, the Deep Space Climate Observatory that monitors space weather, and CLARREO Pathfinder missions that study the planet’s changing climate.
What upsets Elon Musk, however, is a lack of additional funding for a Mars mission. The Silicon Valley billionaire already has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to resupply the International Space Station, but added funds would make Musk’s off-world colony plans easier to achieve.
Musk has already shared his plans to colonize Mars with the world and was probably hoping for additional funds to help get him there. The SpaceX founder wants humanity to establish off-world colonies in case some apocalyptic event makes Earth unlivable.
Trump has said he wants to develop the public-private partnership in space, but his budget for NASA provides no funding for developing the cislunar economy. America plans to abandon the International Space Station in 2024, with a possible four-year extension, and many private space companies have been gearing up to build a new economy above Earth.
When Trump took office, entrepreneurs like Musk hoped the new president would increase funding for space programs as part of his plan to create a host of new jobs and make America great again.
This new budget doesn’t do that, but it also doesn’t gut NASA the way it does a host of other federal programs like the energy, health, and environmental agencies. It maintains current funding levels and sets a specific target date of 2033 for NASA’s manned Mars mission.
Also missing from Trump’s NASA budget is any funding for space tourism, leaving it to the likes of Robert Bigelow to build the first orbital hotels. The hotel magnate attached his company’s inflatable habitats to the ISS for the first time last year and is moving ahead with plans for a commercial station made entirely of expandable modules.
Without additional government support for the cislunar economy, it will be left to private commercial companies to develop and build the infrastructure needed to expand space tourism.
What do you think about Trump’s budget for NASA?
[Featured Image by Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images]