A bill that would authorize more than $19.5 billion in federal funding for NASA is on its way to the White House after clearing both chambers of Congress, and it reportedly includes a challenge to the US space agency to successfully launch a manned mission to Mars by 2033.
According to Business Insider, the so-called NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 marks the first time that the House and Senate have both passed a proposed law that would fund NASA, and it would mark a slight increase from the agency’s 2016 funding level of $19.3 billion.
The funding bill, which Space News said passed the Senate on February 17 and the House earlier this week, also dictates how that money should be spent, including a request that NASA come up with a plan for getting humans “near or on the surface of Mars in the 2030s.”
It also includes instructions for funding the International Space Station, transitioning away from the orbital laboratory, developing next-generation spacesuits, completing the previously planned Asteroid Redirect Mission, and monitoring the long-term health of former astronauts.
In a statement, House Science Committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said that the new bill “reaffirms our support for the bold visions and commitments that will shape America’s future in space” and “reiterates the importance of maintaining NASA’s continuity of purpose to ensure America remains a leader in space exploration.”
Space travel, exploration funded, but not Earth science programs
While the bill has received bipartisan support, it has not won universal acclaim, due in part to its focus on space exploration at the expense of NASA’s Earth sciences programs, Engadget said. It does not lay out a plan for the agency to continue studying and monitoring things such as climate change, the website said. The future of those programs would appear to be up in the air.
The bill authorizes continued funding for the development of the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and Orion crew vehicle for deep space exploration, the James Webb Space Telescope (the planned successor to the Hubble telescope), the continued use of the ISS through 2024 and partnerships with private-sector firms for the delivery of supplies and experiments.
In regards to the SLS and the Orion capsule, the bill calls upon NASA to launch an unmanned exploration mission involving them by the end of next year, as well as a crewed mission by the year 2021. The budget also calls for the agency to provide for the medical monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment of both physical and psychological disorders associated with human space flight, and includes a section focusing on improving IT and cybersecurity efforts.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), a ranking member of the House Science Committee, said that she supported the proposed budget, even though she said that “it is not a perfect bill. It does not directly address all of NASA’s science programs, mainly Earth science and heliophysics.”
“This bipartisan and bicameral bill grew to maturity through many long and serious discussions about the future of our nation’s space program,” Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), the chairman of the House space subcommittee, said during the discussion about the bill, according to Space News. “I’m encouraged by the bill’s persistent emphasis on the continuity of purpose and stability.”
Image credit: Mike Brown/Reuters