Congress Finally Unlocks Much-Needed Funds for NASA’s Mars Mission

NASA Space Shuttle Liftoff

Congress has just approved a $19.5 billion spending bill for NASA’s space programs.

The U.S. Congress’ House of Representatives has passed a bill that will authorize NASA to spend $19.5 billion on its programs during this fiscal year. It is the first time in about six years that Congressmen agree on such bill.

House lawmakers voted on the bill dubbed NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 on Mar. 7 after the Senate passed it unanimously on Feb. 17.

The funds will enable NASA to continue with several of its projects including deep space exploration programs and medical tracking of former astronauts. Congress specifically asked the space agency to spare no effort in preparing the mission to send humans to Mars.

Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) said the bill was the result of multiple serious discussions about the fate of the nation’s space program.

I’m encouraged by the bill’s persistent emphasis on the continuity of purpose and stability,

Babin said.

The current legislative package is nearly identical to a bill Senators passed in December. The newer version, however, includes some suggestions not seen in the earlier version. The new entries include a provision directing the space agency to focus on developing the Orion spacecraft as a vehicle to get astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) if commercial craft development is further delayed.

However, not everyone in Congress were pleased with the current bill. A democrat noted that the bill is not perfect since it does not fund all of NASA’s space programs. Heliopshysics and Earth science are still two underfunded programs. Yet, lawmakers agreed with the overall bill. One of them noted that the piece of legislation was designed to enable the United States remain a space exploration leader.

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 is the first such bill to get both Houses’ approval since the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. Congress drafted multiple authorization bills in the meantime, some of which cleared the House, but none of them made it past the Democratic-controlled Senate.

This year, the bill passed smoothly through both Houses because lawmakers were able to address several issues before it landed in the Senate in February. What’s more, the White House expressed a strong support toward the bill, people familiar with the matter said.

The space industry praised the bill because it is a clear sign American remains committed to its foreign partners and its space exploration programs.
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