As Obama And Congress Fight Over Details, NASA Is Going To Europa

President Obama’s administration has proposed a total of $18.5 billion in funding for NASA, for the Fiscal Year 2016 – which constitutes an increase of $519 million in funding from the Fiscal Year 2015. While the specific details of the way that funding will break down have yet to be agreed upon by Congress – a process which usually results in changes for individual missions and projects – the overall increase indicates a renewed push for space exploration and science, as humanity continues to push further into the solar system.

The annual budget proposals for NASA have historically featured hard-fought negotiations between the White House and Congress – each seeming to have different priorities. The BBC reports that previous years have seen Congress repeatedly deny funding requests for the commercial crew program, with the space agency left to contract out the development of a capsule suitable for the transportation of astronauts to the International Space Station to Boeing and SpaceX. Currently, the U.S pays for its astronauts to be ferried there and back by the Russian Soyuz rocket and capsules.

However, Congress regularly places greater emphasis on planetary science – though the current proposals by the Obama administration would reduce that funding by an estimated $76 million in comparison to the level ultimately agreed to by Congress in 2015. As reported by The Los Angeles Times, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) is hopeful that an agreement can be reached.

“I think the administration’s moving in the right direction, but still has a long way to go. It’s a better budget in many respects than what the administration proposed in the past, although it’s still not at the level that Congress approved even last year.”

Another point of contention is expected to be NASA’s long-planned mission to Europa – Jupiter’s ice-bound moon – which received $100 million from Congress in 2015, but is allocated just $30 million in Obama’s 2016 budget request. However, the request does represent a doubling of 2015’s proposed $15 million.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff – who counts NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in LA Canada Flintridge among interested parties in his district – is optimistic, however.

“I think we’re going to do better than that to keep that mission proceeding forward. That’s one of the very exciting new missions for NASA and JPL. [The budget request] doesn’t reflect the seriousness with which Congress is really devoted to this mission.”

As reported by The Independent, the mission to Europa planned by NASA is now proposed to launch in the mid-2020s, with a large spacecraft called the Europa Clipper travelling to the icy moon and performing up to 45 flypasts – enabling close study of its surface. Though the spacecraft will not land, it is intended to gather data about habitability, and whether the ingredients for life are present on Europa – which is thought to possess water in amounts far greater than that found on Earth.

[Image via The Independent]