WASHINGTON — The White House gave its support for NASA’s Artemis program of lunar exploration, but offered no details on potential changes it may make in the scope and schedule of the effort.
At a Feb. 4 briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki provided an update to a question from the briefing the previous day, when a reporter asked if the Biden administration would continue the Artemis program. At that time, Psaki said she had no details about the administration’s plans for Artemis.
Psaki, referring to that question at the latest briefing, gave a brief overview of the program to return humans to the moon for the first time since the Apollo program ended nearly a half-century ago. “Lunar exploration has broad and bicameral support in Congress, most recently detailed in the FY 2021 omnibus spending bill,” she said. “Certainly, we support this effort and endeavor.”
That spending bill, passed in December, provided NASA with nearly $23.3 billion for the current fiscal year, including some, but not all, of what it asked for regarding Artemis. While the bill fully funded the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, it allocated only $850 million for the Human Landing System (HLS) effort, far short of the $3.3 billion NASA requested for that program.
Despite the shortfall, 11 Democratic members of the U.S. Senate urged President Biden in a Feb. 3 letter to continue the HLS program, calling for “robust funding” for HLS in the administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget request. “Major space exploration efforts have faced disruption as administrations have changed and priorities shifted. It is now time for stability if the nation is to make progress on these initiatives,” the letter stated.
Psaki’s comments, though, gave no indication of how the new administration might alter Artemis through changes in funding, schedules or direction of specific elements of the overall program. Instead, she offered a broad endorsement of the plan for returning humans to the moon, echoing some of the language NASA has used for the program.
“Through the Artemis program, the United States government will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the surface of the moon — another man and a woman to the moon, which is very exciting — conduct new and exciting science, prepare for future missions to Mars and demonstrate America’s values,” she said.
Those comments are consistent with language in the Democratic Party platform last year, which backed a human return to the moon but not necessarily the 2024 goal established by the Trump administration. “We support NASA’s work to return Americans to the moon and go beyond to Mars, taking the next step in exploring our solar system,” the platform stated.
The endorsement of the Artemis program in general, though, may ease concerns from one senator. After Psaki declined to comment on the Artemis program at the Feb. 3 briefing, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) criticized the White House for failing to explicitly back that program.
“I am shocked the Biden administration refused to confirm the president’s support for the Artemis program,” Rubio said in a statement, claiming that failing to proceed with Artemis will “set our nation back in the battle to win the 21st century” and eliminate jobs. “I urge President Biden to give his unequivocal support for the Artemis program and America’s thriving commercial space program.”