After nearly six and a half years, Congress has passed a NASA authorization bill for the first time, and it's now on its way to the desk of President Donald Trump for his signature.
The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 authorizes the House's proposed Fiscal Year 2017 funding level of $19.5 billion. This bill reiterates the importance of maintaining NASA's continuity of objective to ensure America remains a leader in space exploration.
The document asks NASA to create a roadmap for getting humans "near or on the surface of Mars in the 2030s". The bill also leaves intact NASA's Earth Science research, which is crucial to studying climate change.
The American Astronomical Society has a convenient breakdown of the $19.508 billion in the bill, including funding for human space exploration, space station operations, science, and more.
New investments in the International Space Station (ISS) would allow the facility to continue to be utilized until at least 2024 and would make the station a jumping off point for missions to Mars. Whatever the destination may be, NASA must prepare technologies like the Space Launch System, the deep space vehicle Orion, and a design for a more permanent deep space habitat.
The 146-page bill is jam packed with mandates for the space agency to position the U.S. as "a thriving space economy in the 21st century".
"It is the sense of Congress that use of the Space Launch System and Orion, with contributions from partnerships with the private sector, academia, and the global community, is the most practical approach to reaching the Moon (sic), Mars, and beyond", the bill says. It also calls for reports from NASA to Congress on how the private sector is doing in taking over lower-Earth orbit space activity.
Congress encourages NASA to keep working on its Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule as "the most practical approach to reaching the Moon, Mars, and beyond".
Business Insider did not immediately receive a response from Trump administration officials about the president's plans for the new bill.
Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson has stated that boosting NASA's budget will not only help reinvigorate space exploration in the United States, but also benefit the nation's culture, innovation, and economy. Congress expressed its support for a robotic exploration mission to Europa.