Proposed NASA budget takes one small step toward the Moon

Ted Cruz

The space station now is authorized through 2024 and while many at NASA believe the outpost's lifetime could be extended at least another four years to 2028, no such decisions have been made by the United States and its worldwide partners - Russia, the European Space Agency, Canada and Japan.

With the Trump administration's plan to hand off the International Space Station (ISS) to the private sector, the key question is who will emerge as the big players.

But it also includes $150m (£108m) to "encourage commercial development" at ISS to replace American payments.

According to The Washington Post, the USA government is hoping to make the Space Station a sort of real estate venture ran by private organizations.

The transition of the station would mark another bold step for NASA in turning over access to what's known as low Earth orbit to the private sector so that the space agency could focus its resources on exploring deep space. NASA will continue to fund a "gateway" concept for a small outpost in orbit near the Moon in the mid-2020s, with landings somewhere, at some point in the distant future.

The 2019 NASA budget would be $19.9 billion, but it would drop down to $19.6 billion for the next several years.

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While the Trump budget plan says it places renewed support on returning humans to the moon, followed by human expeditions to Mars and elsewhere, few details are provided. "Given competing priorities at NASA, and budget constraints, developing another large space telescope immediately after completing the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is not a priority for the Administration".

Bigelow Aerospace, for example, has talked about attaching a huge inflatable module to the space station that could be used by NASA or private industry.

The space station is an global partnership, and it's not clear what privatizing the US portion would mean for the other countries. Andrew Rush, chief executive of 3-D printing company Made In Space, said plainly that the ISS isn't built for profit seeking.

Beginning during the presidency of George W Bush (2001- 2009), NASA has subcontracted certain ISS support operations, starting with the supply flights now carried out by the SpaceX and Orbital ATK companies - a trend that gained speed during the Obama presidency. Both nations are required for the space station to function with any degree of safety using separate flight control centers.

The Trump administration recognizes the benefits of global cooperation in space, the document says, and is willing to expand collaboration with USA allies "while working with a broader range of partners at all levels of capability". They will boost the lab's crew back to six, joining Expedition 55 commander Anton Shkaplerov, NASA astronaut Scott Tingle and Japanese physician-astronaut Norishige Kanai.

In an agency-wide address, NASA's acting administrator Robert Lightfoot said it was a "very exciting" budget with lots of potential, despite some hard decisions.

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