WASHINGTON - The Trump administration asked Congress on Monday to increase NASA spending next year by an extra $1.6 billion to accommodate the accelerated goal of returning Americans to the surface of the moon by 2024.
The increased funding request, announced by President Donald Trump on Twitter, comes nearly two months after Vice President Mike Pence declared the objective of shortening by four years NASA's timeline for putting astronauts back on the moon for the first time since 1972.
The proposed increase would bring NASA's total spending level for the 2020 fiscal year to $22.6 billion. The bulk of the increase is earmarked for research and development for a human lunar landing system, according to a summary provided by NASA.
"Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars," Trump tweeted late on Monday. "I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!"
NASA had previously aimed to return crewed spacecraft to the lunar surface by the year 2028, after first putting a "Gateway" station into orbit around the moon by 2024.
The newly accelerated goal - an endeavor likely to cost tens of billions of dollars - comes as NASA has struggled with the help of private partners to resume human space missions from U.S. soil for the first time since the shuttle program ended in 2011.
The U.S. Apollo program, NASA's forerunner to the effort at returning humans to Earth's natural satellite, tallied six manned missions to the moon from 1969 to 1972.
So far, only two other nations have conducted controlled "soft" landings on the moon - the former Soviet Union and China. But those were with unmanned robot vehicles.