In the News
Politico | Bryan Bender
It will be a “challenge” to provide NASA the money it needs to follow through on President Donald Trump’s goal of returning astronauts on the moon in 2024, given competing priorities for the space agency, says the top Senate appropriator for the space agency.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, is a staunch supporter of the administration’s effort to return to the moon four years ahead of the previous schedule.
But the Kansas Republican acknowledged the moon program, which has already suffered a funding setback in the House, is competing with other needs such as education programs that must not be cut to pay for Project Artemis.
“In order to prioritize the lunar landing, things would have to be reduced that also are a priority,” Moran, who also sits on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told POLITICO. “We will try to provide all the necessary funding to keep Artemis on track for a lunar landing on schedule, but it is and will remain a challenge.”
For example, he said "I don't think our subcommittee or the Committee on Appropriations is going to zero out STEM education so that money can be spent someplace else."
The Trump administration announced in March 2019 that it plans to land the next man and first woman on the moon no later than 2024, moving the timeline up from 2028. Unlike the previous Apollo missions, the U.S. is preparing to establish a permanent lunar presence, with astronauts remaining in orbit around the moon for months at a time to conduct research that will help NASA prepare for a future crewed mission to Mars.
Trump’s effort to move the landing up four years has also injected the issue with greater partisanship. But Moran insisted his subcommittee has mostly overcome it by focusing on the science that can be conducted on the moon.
“There's been a skepticism by some that this is a political endeavor related to an election cycle calendar,” he said. “I have no evidence that that's the case. … We've been able to overcome that as we pursued the science and the policy — not the politics — of an early return to the moon.”
Moran also spoke about his panel's plans to mark up the Senate’s NASA appropriations bill, how he will approach final negotiations with the House, and how the Apollo moon landings sparked his personal interest in space.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the status of the Senate’s fiscal 2021 appropriations bill for NASA?
It's been bits and pieces of just starting and stopping our efforts. The date on which we thought we were going to mark up our bill has escaped us. We're now waiting for a broader agreement between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, so that we can get back to doing appropriations work.
Our bill is certainly not finalized, but we have ideas we hope to present when we get to the point ... [of] making our report to the full committee. Our efforts have been bi-partisan. [Subcommittee ranking member] Sen. [Jeanne] Shaheen (D-N.H.) and I work closely together and we will develop a [commerce, justice, science and related agencies] appropriations bill that reflects shared priorities among Republicans and Democrats. We hope once again to garner near unanimity among the full committee and consideration on the Senate floor.
Do you have a new date that you're targeting for a markup?
There's a consensus building that would suggest that the appropriations committee will not report bills to the full Senate until after the August recess. ... The hope is that we are fully engaged in the appropriations process in September.
What are your top priorities for NASA spending in fiscal 2021?
I'm an ally of NASA's desire to return a man and a woman to the moon. ...I think accelerating the timeframe in which that can and should occur ... is useful in getting NASA and its private partners focused on an awfully important mission. I commended NASA for the development of the idea of returning to the moon. Our appropriations bills in the past have demonstrated that we not only say that we support that mission, but we've also demonstrated that by providing resources to help accomplish that mission. I would expect in 2021, that our bill will, once again reflect that goal of that aspiration.
We're provided a certain amount of money within our jurisdiction on which to spend money. NASA is an important component of our jurisdiction, but even within NASA's budget, trying to maintain spending for things that are also important in addition to the lunar landing effort is important to me as well.
NASA's proposed budget for fiscal 2021 ... proposed a budget cut of about $1 billion dollars in funding for ongoing programs. In order to prioritize the lunar landing, things would have to be reduced that also are a priority. I understand and value the importance, for example, of [science, technology, engineering and math] education. Either as a matter of policy or a matter of politics, I don't think our subcommittee or the Committee on Appropriations is going to zero out STEM education so that money can be spent someplace else.
We still have to find the right balance within all of [the subcommittee's] jurisdiction, but even within the NASA spending as well. As a Kansan, I come from a state where aviation is hugely important. The first "A" in NASA is aeronautics, and that's a hugely important component of NASA's priority and focus as well. We're going to have to find ways to find the right balance while we still try to advance the objective of getting to the moon.
Is support for the 2024 lunar landing bipartisan in your committee?
It is generally. There's been a skepticism by some that this is a political endeavor related to an election cycle calendar. I have no evidence that that's the case. But I just think that lends a bit of political skepticism, but we've been able to overcome that as we pursued the science and the policy -- not the politics -- of an early return to the moon. Within our committee, Artemis has enjoyed bipartisan support
How will you reconcile that with the House spending bill that cuts funding for the moon mission?
We will try to provide all the necessary funding to keep Artemis on track for a lunar landing on schedule, but it is and will remain a challenge. ... How do you prioritize the limited amount of money that we have to spend within a wide array of things from the Department of Commerce to the census to NOAA to the national weather service? Those are all things within our jurisdiction that have importance but we'll try to find that right balance.
We'll certainly work to negotiate in conference with the House ... to keep the goal of Artemis moving forward by finding a bipartisan and bicameral solution to those levels of spending. ... Everybody could have a slightly different point of view about what to prioritize. Our job is to find something that is acceptable to 60 senators and 218 house members and that can be signed by a president.
Any other areas you're expecting to differ from the House bill?
I've not yet had conversations with my counterparts in the House to get a feel for ... the thought process behind their prioritization of spending. I think it remains to be seen how we work that out. We'll try to be accommodating to that resolution as we work our bill. We're not going out of our way to do something different just for the sake of doing it different differently ... or spending to get their attention. We'll try to get to a point where there's some understanding and direction that lends itself toward an easier resolution rather than a fight when we go to conference.
Do you have a personal interest in space that led you to seek this subcommittee chair position?
I certainly am of an age in which the Apollo landing captured my attention as a kid. I have a goal for my own state, but it's true for the country as well, that we honor and esteem the things that encourage young people to pursue careers in science, mathematics, engineering, and research. I want Kansas and the country to reward those who have that capability to inspire people. It is important for the future of our nation.
It's important to our national defense and to our country's economy. The future of the United States of America in part is determined by the amount of effort and resources we invest in science, research, technology and engineering. So my personal interest in this is that it's really important for our country and its future that the inspiration that comes from space will develop another generation of scientists and engineers.