For the first time in more than six years, both chambers of Congress passed a bill that approves funding for NASA and gives the space agency new mandates.
The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 is a bill that the Senate and House collaborated on for months, and it appropriates $19.5 billion to the agency. (NASA received $19.3 billion in 2016, or 0.5% of the total federal budget.)
When the Senate brought the bill before the House of Representatives for a vote on March 7, “no members spoke against the bill” and it passed, according to Jeff Foust at Space News.
The document asks NASA to create a roadmap for getting humans “near or on the surface of Mars in the 2030s.” It also calls on the space agency to continue developing the Space Launch System (SLS) – a behemoth rocket – and the Orion space capsule in order to eventually go to the moon, Mars, and beyond.
Now it’s up to President Trump to sign the bill into law – or veto it.
Business Insider did not immediately receive a response from Trump administration officials about the president’s plans for the new bill.
But its passage seems likely.
Trump has expressed support for a crewed exploration of Mars, and in his inauguration speech he said he’s “ready to unlock the mysteries of space.” Administration officials, meanwhile, have said they want NASA to return to the moon in the 2020s but also proposed to end the space agency’s 58-year mandate to study the Earth and its climate, details the bill leaves out.
Trump also maintains a relatively tight collaboration with the Republican-controlled legislative branch.
What’s in NASA’s proposed budget?
The American Astronomical Society has a convenient breakdown of the $19.5 billion in the bill, including funding for human space exploration, space-station operations, science, and more.
Here are some notable titles, articles, and sections of the 146-page document:
“Assuring Core Capabilities For Exploration“ – calls for several missions: an uncrewed launch of SLS and Orion in 2018, followed by a crewed mission to the moon in 2021, and further trips to the moon and Mars after that date. “Journey to Mars“ – asks NASA for a roadmap to send people to Mars by 2033; also steers the space agency away from pursuing the Asteroid Redirect Mission (a plan to capture an asteroid, tow it into orbit around Earth, and have astronauts explore the space rock). “Human Space Flight And Exploration Goals And Objectives“ – says it’s the mission of NASA to “to expand permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit.” “Aeronautics“ – calls on NASA to be a leader in aviation and hypersonic aircraft research; also asks the space agency to look into supersonic-aircraft research that would “open new global markets and enable new transportation capabilities.” “Mars 2020 rover“ – Congress backs up NASA’s plan to use the car-sized rover to “help determine whether life previously existed on that planet.” “Europa“ – approves of NASA’s plan to send a probe to Jupiter’s ice-covered moon Europa, which may have a warm subsurface ocean (and possibly host alien life). “Congressional declaration of policy and purpose” – amends previous laws to make it part of NASA’s mission to “search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.” “Extrasolar planet exploration strategy“ – asks NASA to explain how it will use the James Webb Space Telescope and other instruments to hunt for exoplanets. “Near-Earth objects“ – asks NASA to accelerate its program to find killer asteroids in space. “Radioisotope power systems“ – implores NASA to deliver a report on how it plans to make plutonium-238 – an exceedingly rare nuclear fuel for deep-space robots – and detail what its nuclear-powered exploration plans are.