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NASA Authorization Bill Continues Journey To Mars, Commercial Partnerships

Artist's concept of SLS/Orion on the launch pad. Photo: NASA

Congress has approved a $19.5 billion spending plan for NASA. The bill lays out the goals of NASA– including sending humans to Mars.

Read the full text of the bill 

The Authorization bill directs NASA to submit a roadmap to Congress, outlining how the agency plans to put astronauts on the red planet.  It also continues the development of the Space Launch System – NASA’s next rocket – and the effort to partner with commercial companies to send astronauts to the International Space Station.

Space Florida’s Dale Ketcham says the authorization bill will keep NASA’s current plan moving forward during the presidential transition.

“The motivation being driven by the fact that there’s always a likelihood that a new administration is going to want to put a fingerprint on the nation’s space program. That is often at costly change,” said Ketcham, “but it’s their call. Elections have consequences, we have a new administration. They are looking at what the country is doing in space and deciding whether or not that’s the course [the Trump administration] wants to pursue.”

The bill passed in both the House and Senate and now heads to the President for his signature.

The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, an advocacy group made up of commercial space industry partners and non-profits applauded the bill. “The approval of the NASA Transition Authorization Act by Congress sends a clear message to the American people and our international partners that our nation remains committed to NASA’s space exploration program,” said Mary Lynne Dittmar, the Coalition’s Executive Director.

The bill is only an authorization act – laying the groundwork for NASA’s future. Congress now needs to pass an appropriations bill to fund the agency through the next fiscal year.

Bill Highlights: 

International Space Station – Extends the U.S. utilization of the space station through at least 2024 and continues the partnership between NASA and private companies to deliver cargo and experiments. Also facilitates the development of vehicles to transport humans to the station from U.S. soil, ended a reliance on Russian rides to space.

Mars – Adds human exploration of Mars as one of the goals of NASA. Requires the agency present a road map to Congress to achieve the exploration goals and objectives.

Commercialization of Low-Earth Orbit – Directs NASA to develop a plan to turn operations in low-Earth orbit from government agencies to commercial ventures.

Continuity – Affirms Congress’ support for sustained space investments across presidential administrations like the Space Launch System, Orion crew vehicle and the James Web Space Telescope.

Medical Effects of Space – Allows NASA to monitor astronauts for psychological and medical conditions related to human space flight.


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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Are We There Yet?' Host

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. Brendan is a native Floridian, born and raised in Broward County. He moved to ... Read Full Bio »