Yesterday, Trump signed the S.442 NASA Authorization Bill, which allocates $19.5 billion in funding for the agency through fiscal year 2017.
Speaking at the White House, Trump seemed to lend support to NASA’s commercial partnerships, which includes funding companies like SpaceX and Boeing via the Commercial Crew Development program. The bill also loosely keeps the goal of getting humans to orbit Mars by 2033.
“With this legislation, we support NASA’s scientists, engineers, astronauts, and their pursuit of discoveries,” Trump said during the event. “This bill will make sure that NASA’s most important and effective programs are sustained.”
This particular bill, which passed Congress earlier this year, is different from the $19.1 billion budget Trump proposed the other day for fiscal year 2018. That budget involved canceling the Europa lander, ending a mission to explore an asteroid, scrapping NASA’s Office of Education, and ending involvement in several Earth observation satellites. If that budget ever goes though, it will certainly not maintain NASA’s programs.
Essentially, this Authorization Bill – known more specifically as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017 – will keep NASA ticking over until a new budget comes in. Not everyone was happy about it, however, with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk taking to Twitter to bemoan a lack of focus on Mars.
I am not. This bill changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 22, 2017
One interesting part of the bill refers to the Apollo landing sites, as noted by CollectSpace. There have been calls recently to ensure they are protected from harm by future missions.
This bill attempts to address that, noting that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy should look into “protecting and preserving historically important Apollo program lunar landing sites and Apollo program artifacts residing on the lunar surface.”
You might think that’s a bit silly. After all, no human has set foot on the Moon since 1972, and since 1976 only one unmanned mission – China’s Chang’e 3 lander and rover – has touched down there. But in recent years, several companies and nations have announced plans to go back.
By the end of this year, we’re expecting to see several private companies land on the Moon as part of the Google Lunar XPRIZE, and one team even wanted to revisit the Apollo 17 site. So the bill calls for new legislation to ensure the sites are protected, without going into specifics.
The bill also reintroduces the National Space Council, a somewhat controversial council that will oversee US space policy, headed by Vice President Mike Pence. It won’t be until next fiscal year, though, that we really see Trump’s plans for NASA take hold, which might include focusing on the Moon or Mars.
Does Trump himself want to go to Mars? I’m not sure, but I’ll let you know if I find out.