Congress

NASA chief warns yearlong stopgap could cripple return to moon

Sen. Moran asked Administrator Bridenstine for help winning over former House colleagues

The image of a Saturn V, the rocket that sent Apollo 11 into orbit on July 16, 1969, is projected on the Washington monument on July 16, 2019, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to land the first man on the moon. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With celebrations underway marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the NASA administrator is warning that a full-year stopgap spending bill, like one recently floated by the Trump administration, would be “devastating” to U.S. efforts to get back to the moon.

Administrator Jim Bridenstine was at the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday for a hearing on space exploration to the moon and Mars, when Chairman Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, asked about the potential consequences of a yearlong continuing resolution, or CR.

The administrator praised the efforts and spending by private-sector partners, but he noted that significant federal investment is needed for the new lunar lander.

UNITED STATES - JULY 17: NASA Administrator James Bridenstine prepares to testify during the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on "Moon to Mars: NASA's Plans for Deep Space Exploration" on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine prepares to testify during the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on “Moon to Mars: NASA’s Plans for Deep Space Exploration.“(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“What we lack right now is a lander. The United States right now has not had a moon lander since 1972, the last time we landed on the surface of the moon. That’s something that we need to develop,” Bridenstine said. “If we end up in a CR, that lander doesn’t continue to get developed, and we don’t have money in the budget right now to develop a lander. It takes a good bit of time, which is why we need to get started right away."

Added Bridenstine: “If we end up, sir, in a CR for a period of a year or even more, it would be devastating for trying to achieve the goal of landing the next man and the first woman on the south pole.”

The moon's south pole is of particular interest because of the confirmed existence of lunar ice on the surface that would be more accessible than any ice that required burrowing underground.

Bridenstine, previously a fiscally conservative GOP House lawmaker from Oklahoma, also noted that a long-term CR could basically force the space agency to continue work on projects and programs that it would like to steer away from in order to focus on the moon mission.

“The reality is we then do not make investments that we need to make, but even worse, we continue to make investments that we don’t need to make, so it is in fact a waste of money,” he said.

Sen. Jerry Moran implored Bridenstine to make sure the Trump administration and Bridenstine’s own former colleagues in the House understood the importance of being able to get a deal on topline spending to move fiscal 2020 appropriation bills.

Like acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Bridenstine was a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Moran is responsible for the NASA budget as chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee.

“I need everyone to know that if we’re going to pursue a more bold plan at NASA, we have to have a budget agreement that allows us to spend the money, and a CR is, as you indicated, is devastating to this cause,” the Kansas Republican said.

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