Congress just passed a resolution giving NASA another $2.4 billion for its mission to Mars.
The continuing resolution maintains funding for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion capsule and the infrastructure necessary to support them. Astronauts are set to ride Orion into orbit in 2021 and eventually to Mars as soon as 2030.
The bill could lock-in legislation that increases spending on SLS by $1.31 billion and Orion by $1.1 billion, while pouring another $55 million into infrastructure required to support both projects.
Space analysts suspect President-elect Donald Trump is interested in sending a mission to Mars. Money for Mars exploration could potentially be taken from NASA’s troubled Asteroid Redirect Mission. Trump could also slash the more than $2 billion NASA spends on its Earth Science Mission Directorate, which covers global warming science.
NASA spends far more on environmental research than many of its other science functions, including astrophysics and space technology. Those programs only get $781.5 million and $826.7 million, respectively.
Plans to have the SLS and Orion carry astronauts to Mars were repeatedly sabotaged by the Obama administration, which was accused of leaking information to the press about missions and has threatened to veto the projects.
NASA had been sending a steady stream of missions to Mars, but the agency has been forced to scale back to only one more planned mission, the Mars 2020 Rover, as a result of Obama’s budget cuts. Obama’s NASA budget shifted money from exploration and robotics programs to its environmental sciences and “outreach” programs.
America is 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.
NASA and private companies aren’t the only ones racing to Mars. Delays and budget cuts have allowed China to catch up to the space programs of NASA and the U.S. military, causing both congressional Republicans and Democrats to blame President Barack Obama. China is planning a mission to Mars.
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