Trump aims for moon, pulls back on space station, telescopes

The station is a joint project of several space-faring nations, and NASA has contracted with private companies, like Boeing and SpaceX, to reach it in recent years.

Rather than ditch the International Space Station when its funding through 2024 ends, the Trump administration is looking to turn it over to the private sector, the Washington Post reports.

The United States has spent almost US$100 billion to build and operate the station orbiting around the earth at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

The ISS, which orbits some 400 kilometres above Earth, is now supported in a joint project by the U.S., Russian, Japanese and European space agencies.

NASA now spends about $3 billion a year on station operations and support, maintaining the U.S. segment of the outpost, supplying spare parts and other critical cargo and buying seats aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry U.S., European, Canadian and Japanese astronauts to and from the outpost. The document says "increasing investments" above that $150 million will be included in future years' budget requests. Mike Suffredini, a former space station program manager for NASA who now runs Axiom Space in Houston and aims to establish the world's first commercial space station cautioned that the USA government needs to have a direct hand in the International Space Station until it comes down.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Space, said last week that it had to be "numbskulls" at the Office of Management and Budget who proposed ending federal funding for the space station, The New York Times reported.

Next up for the Russians is the return of three station crew members aboard the Soyuz MS-06/52S spacecraft February 27, bringing outgoing station commander Alexander Misurkin and two NASA astronauts, Mark Vande Hei and Joseph Acaba, back to a landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan to close out a 166-day stay in space.

Frank Slazer, the vice president of space systems for the Aerospace Industries Association, said the plan also could prove sticky with the station's global partners.

Robert Bigelow, the founder of Bigelow Aerospace, a private company that has its own moduleattached to the space station, praised the budget proposal.

Boeing, along with Elon Musk's SpaceX, are both in the process of developing crew transportation systems to enable USA astronauts to travel on an American-made space vehicle-currently the US pays Russian Federation $80 million per seat to travel on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.

While the budget plan said it places renewed support on returning humans to the moon, followed by human expeditions to Mars and elsewhere, no precise timeline and few details are provided. Among them: the proposed end of WFIRST, a telescope with 100 times the field of view of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Rocket builders SpaceX and Orbital ATK have contracts with NASA to complete supply missions without crews. The mission's estimated cost is somewhere between $3.2 and $3.9 billion.

  • Joe Gonzales