Politics

To the Moon and Beyond! — Mission to Mars Funding in Omnibus

Goal is to put an astronaut on the red planet during Trump’s time in the White House

NASA for years has been planning long-range space exploration to the moon and Mars. Back in 2006, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, Associate Administrator Scott Horowitz, and Constellation Program Manager Jeffrey Hanley discussed the Constellation Program, the space agency’s plan for robotic and human exploration of the moon and Mars. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump is hoping to land a U.S. astronaut on Mars during his tenure in the White House, and Congress is prepared to continue to back up that mission.

The fiscal 2018 spending bill would provide $1.35 billion in funding for the Orion Spacecraft at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The program, which received the same level of funding for fiscal 2017, is aimed at building a vehicle for deep-space travel, including the moon and Mars.

“For the first time in a generation, NASA is building a new human spacecraft that will usher in a new era of space exploration,” a fact sheet for the program states. “It will be the safest, most advanced spacecraft ever built, and it will be flexible and capable enough to take us to a variety of destinations.”

NASA, under the omnibus, would receive $4.79 billion in total for space exploration efforts, a $466 million increase over 2017 funding levels.

While the first mission for the Orion spacecraft will be an unmanned journey “miles beyond the moon,” NASA hopes to send humans on the journey in the early 2020s.

Trump last year announced a plan to return U.S. astronauts and eventually Mars.

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” he said during a signing ceremony in December. “It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use.”

NASA is still without a Senate-confirmed leader. The chamber has yet to approve Rep. Jim Bridenstine — an Oklahoma Republican who is Trump’s pick to lead the agency, although he is on the Executive Calendar awaiting floor consideration.

UNITED STATES - MAY 21: Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., attends a news conference in the Capitol where he and others primarily expressed support for victims of the Oklahoma tornado. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., is the president’s pick to head NASA. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In a letter sent on Tuesday, 61 House lawmakers, led by Republican Rep. Brian Babin of Texas, pressed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer to swiftly confirm Bridenstine.

“It would be a travesty to America’s space program for it to remain leaderless at this critical time when America’s space industry is making rapid advances that will set the course of space leadership for decades to come,” the members wrote. “We urge the Senate to confirm Jim Bridenstine swiftly and allow him to lead the world’s premier space agency into the next age of space exploration.”

Watch: McConnell: Omnibus Not ‘Perfect’ but Contains Victories

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