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What Biden’s proposed NASA budget could mean for Alabama

Space NASA Lunar Lander
This illustration provided by NASA on Friday, Aug. 16, 2019, shows a proposed design for an Artemis program ascent vehicle leaving the surface of the moon, separating from a descent vehicle. On Friday, Aug. 16, 2019, NASA picked its Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., to lead development of a lunar lander to carry astronauts back to the moon. (NASA via AP)

President Joe Biden is seeking to increase NASA’s budget to $27.2 billion next year. The goals set by the White House could mean a larger investment for work being done or managed by Alabama’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. $8.1 billion dollars are being earmarked for NASA’s Artemis program to send astronauts to the lunar surface. Marshall manages the new Moon effort and tested components for NASA’s new super rocket, called the Space Launch System or SLS. That booster carried the agency’s first Orion space capsule, without astronauts on board, to orbit on the first leg of a trip around the Moon.

Specifically, the Biden budget proposal includes additional funding for NASA to build a new lunar landing vehicle. That work is also managed by Marshall. The space agency originally asked SpaceX to be the prime contractor for the craft to carry the first astronauts to the lunar surface since Apollo 17 in 1972. NASA, and Marshall, tweaked that process last year for going beyond that. Future landers after the Artemis 3 touchdown on the Moon could include opening the process of developing lunar landers to a wider collection of potential contractors. This upcoming activity, known as the Sustaining Lunar Development contract, will lay out requirements for the future capability to carry astronauts to and from the surface of the Moon.

The Apollo lunar program that out astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon demonstrated how NASA used multiple contractors on space missions. The agency says the Saturn-V rocket that carried the Apollo missions used three prime contractors, North American, Boeing, and Douglas Aircraft. Each company built one stage of the three stage launch vehicle.

Biden’s budget request represents a 7% increase from NASA’s budget in fiscal year 2023, with more funds allocated for Artemis. The White House also wants close to $1 billion dollars for a mission to return Mars rock and soil samples. There’s an additional $180 million so NASA can begin building a “space tug” to help pull the International Space Station down from orbit when it’s expected to retire in 2030.

What the White House wants, and it will get for the U.S. Space Program, could be very different. Congress often adjusts budget amounts during the approval process.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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