Congress is aiming to blow the cobwebs out of NASA’s manned spaceflight exploits, approving a new bill that suggests an increase in funding for the agency while issuing a number of challenges in the process.
A bill outlining $19.5 billion of NASA funding received no vocal competition on the house floor, which means it’s now up to the Trump administration to approve or suggest adjustments.
“This bipartisan and bicameral bill grew to maturity through many long and serious discussions about the future of our nation’s space program,” said Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), chairman of the House space subcommittee, during the discussion on the House floor. “I’m encouraged by the bill’s persistent emphasis on the continuity of purpose and stability.”
The vote represents the first time in over six years that a NASA authorization has passed through both houses, however, it comes with some strict guidelines and targets for the space agency’s near and long-term operations. Titled The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, S.442, the bill states that funding is dependent on NASA ticking a number of operational boxes. These provisos range from the investigation of long-term medical implications of space travel on humans, to the outline of a plan for manned spaceflight.
Highlights of that manned spaceflight plan include the target of using NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) to put a human back on the moon by the year 2021. As preparation, the SLS will also make an unmanned lunar trip in 2018.
As romantic as a return to the moon is, it’s another proviso on the bill that will have space fans most excited.
“S.442, SEC. 432. (b) (1) IN GENERAL.—The Administrator shall develop a human exploration roadmap, including a critical decision plan, to expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit to the surface of Mars and beyond, considering potential interim destinations such as cis-lunar space and the moons of Mars.”
“(A) an integrated set of exploration, science, and other goals and objectives of a United States human space exploration program to achieve the long-term goal of human missions near or on the surface of Mars in the 2030s;“
(NASA outlines its route to getting a manned mission to Mars – Credit: NASA)
The target of humans reaching Mars is not a new one, but this latest bill formalizes things by putting NASA’s own funding on the line.
“Today’s approval of the NASA Transition Authorization Act by Congress sends a clear message to the American people and our international partners that our nation remains committed to NASA’s space exploration program,” Mary Lynne Dittmar, executive director of the Coalition of Deep Space Exploration, told Space News
It’s important to note that this is an authorization bill, and not an appropriations bill, which means that this is more of a framework for funding that outlines how much various operations might get. Decisions on the actual allocation of a budget will come from the new Administration and could end up coming out higher or lower than the $19.5 billion mentioned in this bill.
You can read the full bill, here.