Image: NASA

One of President Trump's visions for the American space program is to turn the International Space Station into a kind of strip mall, with various private companies taking over pieces of the station and its functions as the federal government defunds it within seven years.

Quartz reports that Trump's 2019 budget shifts NASA's focus to deep space, increasingly relying on private companies to provide other aspects of the space program, such as ground-to-space communications and moon landings. Trump wants to end federal funding for the International Space Station by 2024 and, beginning with 2019, create a $150 million program to prepare private companies to take over functions on the ISS or replace it with their own space stations. Companies such as Bigelow Aerospace and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin have been agitating for the move for years.

The 2019 budget includes funding for new partnerships to land robots on the moon, increase spending on deep-space probes built by Boeing and Lockheed Martin and new crafts built by Boeing and Musk's SpaceX that are scheduled to take astronauts to the International Space Station in 2020. 

To pay for that, the budget cuts $100 million in ISS funding, ends NASA's independent education program and slashes funding for earth science. Trump also wants to shut down the climate-change monitoring satellite DISCOVR and cancel several other earth science satellites NASA scientists have proposed, Quartz says.


It's far from certain that the president will get his way. Last year, Congress essentially ignored Trump's 2018 budget proposal — with its massive cuts to many domestic programs — and funded most programs at their current levels. International agreements would complicate any essential redefinition of the ISS. Boeing now operates the ISS for NASA for $4 billion a year, and it's not eager to lose the contract. And there is reluctance in Congress to cut ties with the International Space Station after the U.S. government has spent billions of dollars and decades investing in the project.

“As a fiscal conservative, you know one of the dumbest things you can do is cancel programs after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life ahead,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who called the proposal to end funding for the ISS the product of "numbskulls" at the Office of Management and Budget.

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