Trump State of the Union calls on Congress to fully fund program to send astronauts to the moon

The NASA chief has said the agency is going to need much more funding to meet the White House's goal

During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Trump called on lawmakers to fully fund a plan aimed at sending U.S. astronauts to the lunar surface over the next four years.

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“In reaffirming our heritage as a free nation, we must remember that America has always been a frontier nation,” Trump said. “Now we must embrace the next frontier, America's manifest destiny in the stars. I am asking the Congress to fully fund the Artemis program to ensure that the next man and the first woman on the moon will be American astronauts – using this as a launching pad to ensure that America is the first nation to plant its flag on Mars.”

Trump signed an initiative directing NASA to send astronauts back to the moon in December 2017 on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 17. Vice President Mike Pence gave the agency the 2024 deadline in March of last year. The agency had previously planned to return to the lunar surface in 2028.

TRUMP SEEKS $1.6B INCREASE FOR NASA'S ARTEMIS PROGRAM TO LAND FIRST WOMAN ON MOON BY 2024

NASA CHIEF 'CONCERNED' ABOUT HOUSE BILL THAT WOULD DELAY MOON LANDING

The White House announced in May it would seek to increase NASA’s fiscal 2020 budget by $1.6 billion to pave the way for the lunar exploration initiative – known as Artemis. The agency ended up getting $600 million approved for the human landing system for the moon.

However, in an interview with The Verge, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said achieving the goal of reaching the moon by 2024 is “all based on funding.”

“The history is always that the funding never matches the vision, and so the fact that we got $600 million in 2020 puts us in the game,” Bridenstine told the publication. “The 2021 budget is even more important, and it’s going to have to be a lot bigger than $600 million.”

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There has been recent drama surrounding the program over a bill in the House of Representatives that would reprioritize part of the agency’s space exploration goals – delaying its plans of sending a crewed mission to the moon until 2028 and placing a larger emphasis on visiting Mars by 2033.

As previously reported by FOX Business, Bridenstine raised concerns that the bill would impose constraints on the agency’s approach to lunar exploration.

“We do think that the bill’s concerns for limiting activities on the Moon could be counterproductive,” Bridenstine said in a statement.

One of Bridenstine’s main concerns was NASA had begun working on a Human Landing System to deliver humans to the lunar surface by 2024 – and has sought proposals from private companies. However, the bill would require that NASA have “full ownership” of the spacecraft, diminishing private sector collaboration opportunities.

That constraint specifically, he said, would diminish the chances of creating a sustainable space exploration program.

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