With a new President at the helm, things are quickly changing in Washington and those changes are reverberating across the nation, the globe and even into space. As key members of the administration and the media continue to focus on all the buzzwords that we heard throughout the campaign season, a few events have been happening in a bit quieter, yet no less important, fashion.
One such action was the signing of the 2017 NASA Transition Authority Act, which President Trump signed into law on March 21st. During the signing ceremony, Vice President Mike Pence also said that there is a plan to reactivate the White House National Space Council with none other than VP Pence as the leader. Circling back around to his campaign promises, President Trump said that the key provisions of the new legislation will be to create jobs and reaffirm NASA’s core missions including “human space exploration, space science and technology.” In a not-so-surprising boastful moment, he surmised that he “will be remembered as creating the interplanetary highway system.” While that might take some time to play out the way he hopes, there are effects of the bill that should become visible in the near future.
The new bill, which is the first NASA authorization bill since 2010, will set policy and funding levels for fiscal year 2017 although it does not provide funding to NASA. And although the details of the plan are not yet widely known, one key piece that is central to human space exploration is a proposed crewed mission to Mars. Seemingly committed to making that mission happen, it has been scheduled to take place by 2033.
In addition, the new Act also expressed continued commitment to the International Space Station, the utilization of Low Earth Orbit and related space ventures. Section 431, subtitle C – Journey to Mars, specifically states: “The administration shall develop a human exploration roadmap, including a critical decision plan, to expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit to the surface of Mars and beyond, considering potential interim destinations such as cis-lunar space and the moons of Mars.” Interesting and impressive stuff!
Also included in the new Act are provisions for human space flight’s long-term goals, advanced space suit capability, asteroid robotic missions, astrobiology strategies, the medical monitoring and research related to human space flight and much more. While the future of our nation, and our foray into advancing space travel and science continue to evolve, one thing is certain… we are on the precipice of exciting times! We can rest assured knowing that critics will continue to closely monitor the future of the Act and those who favor the new endeavors can take comfort in knowing the programs are safe for another year.
For more information about the 2017 NASA Transition Authority Act, or to read it in its’ entirety, please visit https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/442/text