March 22, 2017

Trump signs bill urging NASA to send humans to Mars

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed a $19.5 billion bill to fund NASA programs and emphasized the agency’s recommitment to the exploration of deep space over more Earthy-bound research endeavors.

The bill basically aligns with the budget the White House released last week. NASA won't face exactly the same cuts as other scientific research agencies, which could shed enormous portions of their budget under the president's proposal. As for NASA’s plans, delivering astronauts to Mars by the 2030s continues to be its long-term goal, and Congress will fund the completion of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule for that mission.

The bill comes after a contentious NASA authorization bill was passed in 2010. That bill effectively dissolved the Constellation program, which planned to send astronauts to the moon.

“I think it's really more of a vote for stability,” Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told The Washington Post about the new bill.

Pullbacks on Climate Research

The signing of the bill comes after the Trump Administration has made it clear that it wants NASA to stop focusing on climate research, and direct more energy outwards, towards space exploration efforts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be directed to pick up the slack when it comes to climate research.

Incidentally, President Obama wasn’t particularly known for making big investments in the space agency.

“It's been a long time since a bill like this has been signed reaffirming our national commitment to the core mission of NASA, human space exploration, space science and technology,” Trump said, later adding, “We support jobs. It's about jobs.”

As part of the bill, NASA will cover the cost of tracking, diagnosing and caring for any health issues associated with spaceflight for all former astronauts. The space agency has been observing its former astronauts for health issues, but it couldn't treat any complications that were discovered. The space agency only directed astronauts back to their primary-care doctor.

In 2010, Congress was asked to guarantee lifetime benefits for astronauts, but that request was said to have been stymied by political pressure from the union that represents many NASA workers, according to the Wall Street Journal, on the grounds that the request would have helped just a small group of people.


Image credit: Evan Vucci