As a recent piece in the Verge suggests, the metric for understanding whether or not the trump administration is serious about a return to the moon will be reflected in its budget request early next year. If significant funding is requested to get Americans back to the moon, then we can believe that Trump is in earnest. If only a token amount of money is asked for, we can be forgiven for suspecting that another fake space program is being foisted on us. That leaves out the possibility that Congress will allocate more money, which in this political climate it is capable of doing.

What would be a good round number?

Before coming up with a round number, we can dispense with the idea that NASA is going to need an Apollo-sized budget, about $165 billion over the next ten years or so. For one thing, we know how to go back to the moon because we already did it. We can rely on the help of the commercial sector with its independent lunar plans and from international partners who are quite eager to join in a back to the moon effort. NASA is already spending $4 billion or so a year on the Orion and the Space Launch System, elements of a return to the moon strategy.

Just to pull a back of the envelope figure, let’s say that the Trump administration asks for $1 billion for the lunar effort above the just north of $19 billion NASA is spending this year.

The money would be a down payment that is impressive enough to make people conclude that the White House is serious about getting Americans back to the moon.

What would a billion dollars pay for?

The first task that NASA would face is to procure a lander that could get astronauts to the lunar surface. The plan that is emerging seems to be to set up what would be, in effect, a Commercial Lunar Transportation program that would set private companies in competition to build a lunar lander.

Let’s spread $500 million among various firms such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Moon Express, Astrobotic, and others to get the ball rolling.

NASA has been developing a Lunar Resource Prospector designed to land at one of the lunar poles and explore it for resources, especially water ice. Let’s make that mission a new start, with an opening appropriation of $100 million.

SpaceX’s Elon Musk recently announced a reusable heavy-lift rocket called the BFR that would be capable of landing on the moon and Mars. NASA can hurry things along by buying a demonstration flight to the moon, to deliver equipment to build a lunar base. A similar deal could be arranged for Blue Origin’s planned New Armstrong moon rocket. The cost would be $100 million each.

That leaves $200 million for technology development and buying flights on missions being developed by Moon Express and Astrobotic, The figures presented were rough guesses, but should give the gentle reader an idea what a serious back to the moon effort might look like.