Presidential elections can often be a scary time (some more than others), but it’s an especially trying time for agencies like NASA. Thankfully, it seems the plan for Mars will keep moving ahead (even if that plan could use a few course corrections along the way).
For the U.S. space agency to pull off a set of missions, it takes years and sometimes decades of planning — and that requires consistent funding to keep the process moving. But when an election rolls around, a new president can sometimes change the focus and scrap existing projects (much like what happened when President Obama axed the Constellation program that would’ve sent astronauts back to the moon, which certainly wasn’t a bad idea). So now NASA has spent the better part of a decade working on a plan to get us to Mars — and a Senate panel just voted to fund that initiative regardless of who is in the White House.
USA Today reports members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed a bipartisan bill authorizing $19.5 billion for NASA’s current initiatives. Namely: the Mission to Mars, the plan to use private spaceflight companies to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, and the development of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft line that will (hopefully) carry the first astronauts to Mars. The funding level is equal to, or slightly more than, last year’s appropriation.
Along with the cash, the committee is also requiring NASA to provide regular updates on the controversial asteroid redirect mission (which some have called a waste of time) set for 2021. Which isn’t a bad idea, and gives the committee an opportunity to drop the hammer if it starts floundering.
Though NASA’s current direction is not without its flaws, its what the space agency has been working toward for more than a decade. Scrapping the plan now would put any other project years behind schedule. The budget still needs to pass the floor, but passing the committee was the largest hurdle. Now just get our asses to Mars, y’all.
(Via USA Today)