CAPE CANAVERAL — The Trump administration aims to privatize the International Space Station by 2025, redirecting NASA's investment in the orbiting laboratory complex toward a lunar exploration program.
A budget proposal released Monday for the 2019 fiscal year starting Oct. 1 would have NASA turn over space station operations to commercial and/or international partners after 2024.
Overall, NASA would receive a slight top-line funding increase next year, from $19.5 billion to $19.9 billion.
The space station plan is likely to face considerable skepticism in Congress.
"The administration’s budget for NASA is a non-starter,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. “Turning off the lights and walking away from our sole outpost in space at a time when we’re pushing the frontiers of exploration makes no sense."
U.S. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also has voiced doubts about the proposal.
Congress has directed NASA to study the feasibility of extending space station operations, which cost about $3 billion a year, to 2028 or 2030. That study is not complete.
The Trump administration wants to invest roughly $150 million next year as a start to helping ready private industry to assume responsibility for activity in low Earth orbit.
NASA would launch a small station, called the Deep Space Gateway, into orbit around the moon. The first module could launch from Kennedy Space Center atop a Space Launch System rocket by 2023.
No target date is set for a human mission to the lunar surface.
Another controversial budget proposal would cancel NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope mission, or WFIRST, which according to NASA is "designed to settle essential questions in the areas of dark energy, exoplanets and infrared astrophysics."
The budget would eliminate funding for NASA's Office of Education, repeating a proposal that failed a year ago.
Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting chief, will offer a "State of NASA" address Monday afternoon to offer more details on the proposed spending plan.
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