President Donald Trump signed a bill to authorize and fund NASA for a mission to Mars by 2033.
The new law pumps $19.5 billion into deep space human exploration programs, including a manned mission to Mars. The law also instructs NASA to accelerate plans to put U.S. astronauts to lunar orbit in 2019 and send a crewed mission to Mars in 16 years.
“With President Trump’s signature on the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, we put America back on a path to being a global leader in space,” Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith said in a press statement.
“NASA is emblematic of the president’s ‘America First’ agenda as it is the first authorization bill he has signed into law,” said Smith, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
The bill passed both the House and Senate with near-unanimous support. Increased funding for space exploration will be paid for by cutting spending on earth sciences, global warming research and heliophysics.
Now, NASA will send astronauts on several missions to orbit the moon to test technology in the 2020s to help train astronauts for a manned mission to Mars.
Trump’s Mars and Moon missions will require the giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Former President Barack Obama tried for years to eliminate the SLS, but Congress rescued the rocket. Obama took money from space exploration programs to fund earth science programs.
The U.S. is currently better prepared to visit Mars than it was to visit the moon in the 1960s, according to a study by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The total cost of current plans to send Americans to Mars comes out to roughly $35 billion spent by 2025 to arrive in 2030.
Trump has long expressed interest in sending NASA to Mars, vowing to “unlock the mysteries of space” in his inaugural address and holding a private meeting with space billionaire Elon Musk.
During a speech to the Joint Session of Congress in late February, Trump said, “American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.” Vice President Mike Pence met with Apollo 11 astronaut and Mars mission advocate Buzz Aldrin earlier in March to talk about the future of the U.S. space program.
Trump previously requested NASA plan to return U.S. astronauts to the lunar surface potentially by 2020 and go onto Mars soon after, according to leaked internal documents. The documents say Trump wanted NASA to launch a “rapid and affordable” lunar mission to the moon by 2020, build privately operated space stations and assist “the large-scale economic development of space.”
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