President Trump signed a 2017 NASA budget bill Tuesday that authorizes $19.5 billion for the program, reports Time Magazine. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017 also adds to NASA’s mission the long-awaited exploration of Mars. This bill is a landmark effort in American scientific discovery, providing renewed support to US space exploration goals which have languished during the Obama administration. It is the first bill of its kind signed in over six years, according to a White House statement.
The newly-signed law puts NASA on a fast track to realize the goal of a human space flight mission to Mars in 2033. The law directs the agency to manage and develop human space flight programs such as the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle and the Space Launch System (SLS), as well as create a human exploration roadmap using data learned from trips to intermediate destinations. A subsection of the law entitled “Journey to Mars” explains:
“NASA shall develop a human exploration roadmap, including a critical decision plan, for expanding 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.”
President Trump also plans to revive the National Space Council. This executive body was launched by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 but was abandoned by President Bill Clinton only four years later. SpaceNews reports that Vice President Mike Pence revealed the plans, stating:
“In very short order, the president will be taking action to re-launch the National Space Council. He’s asked me to chair that, as vice presidents have in the past, and we’re going to be bringing together the best and the brightest in NASA and also in the private sector.”
In mentioning “the private sector,” Vice President Pence echoes the Trump administration’s support for private-public collaboration in the field of space exploration. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act includes support for commercial companies providing delivery service for experiments and cargo, as well as encouraging private investment in the 21st Century Launch Complex Program.
Along with setting new exploration goals and supporting commercial opportunities, the new Act also bolstered US support of the International Space Station, promising “to support full and complete utilization of the ISS through at least 2024.” According to NASA, The International Space Station provides a unique laboratory for physical science experiments in a microgravity environment. The results of these experiments have applications on Earth as well as for space exploration. The law also leaves open the possibility of international collaboration on the Mars mission through the ISS program.
The bill, S.442, was sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and introduced on February 17. It sailed smoothly through both houses with no amendments and widespread bipartisan support of its many standards, including the law’s provision for the monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment of human space flight-related medical conditions for former US astronauts and payload specialists. The White House stated that Senator Cruz joined the bill’s two cosponsors, Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., along with several Congresspersons and NASA officials in the Oval Office to observe the president’s signing of the bill. Time reports that Senator Nelson, who is a former astronaut, expressed approval of the bill’s practical focus on both space exploration and commercial endeavors.
President Trump’s administration plans for this law to make a marked difference in NASA’s neglected space exploration functions, with the ultimate goal of facilitating human travel to Mars and encouraging deep space expeditions. According to NBC News, the last space shuttle launch occurred in 2011 to tearful eyes at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Now, five years later, NASA officials have high hopes that President Trump’s measure will send American astronauts out to explore the universe once again.
[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]