Trump signs bill authorizing NASA funding, Mars exploration

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, after signing a bill to increase NASA's budget to $19.5 billion and directs the agency to focus human exploration of deep space and Mars. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, after signing a bill to increase NASA's budget to $19.5 billion and directs the agency to focus human exploration of deep space and Mars. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has signed into law a bill that adds exploration of Mars as a NASA goal.

The new law also authorizes $19.5 billion in space agency funding for the 2017 budget year, which began Oct. 1. Trump recently sent Congress a budget proposal that authorizes $19.1 billion for the space agency next year.

The measure amends current law to add human exploration of Mars as one of NASA’s objectives. It also directs NASA to manage human space flight programs to help humans explore Mars and other destinations.

Trump signed the bill Tuesday in the Oval Office surrounded by astronauts and bill sponsors, including Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Both senators challenged Trump during the presidential campaign.

Texas Senator John Cornyn issued a statement showing his support for the president’s new law.

“The President’s signature on this legislation reinforces our commitment to human space exploration and American innovation. Texas has and will continue to be at the forefront of human space exploration, and I want to thank Senator Cruz and the members of the Texas congressional delegation who fought for this legislation.”

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, now law, includes the following provisions consistent with Sen. Cornyn’s MANIFEST for Human Spaceflight Act:

  • The legislation would require NASA to regularly provide Congress a human exploration strategy outlining goals and destinations for future manned space missions.
  • To ensure the agency considers independent views, NASA is directed to partner with the National Academies to provide input and further recommendations that would be included in the final strategy.
  • Directs NASA to specifically designate a human presence on the surface of Mars and  beyond low-earth orbit as a long-term goal, a position supported by the Spaceflight Committee’s report as well as the broader space exploration community.
  • Reaffirms Congressional support for the Space Launch System and the Orion program, and directs any long-term strategy to include opportunities for collaboration with industry and academia.

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