Congress’ just-struck deal to fund the federal budget through 2016 includes a nice spending boost for NASA and its commercial space program.
The new sum includes $3.27 billion for the agency to continue work on its new space launch system and Orion crew capsule, as NASA gears up for a push toward a Mars mission in the next decade or two. The agency’s Commercial Crew Program — used to fund contracts with Boeing, SpaceX and other providers of launch services related to the International Space Station — will get $1.24 billion.
Florida’s Sen. Bill Nelson, who has championed the space program as the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, applauded the space funding package.
“We are going back into space with Americans on American rockets, and we are going to Mars,” Nelson said on the Senate floor Dec. 16, the same day a bipartisan agreement was reached on the new federal budget.
The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a Washington, D.C. business advocacy group, also lauded the program funding.
“These investments represent a strong commitment to America’s human, robotic and science exploration programs,” said Mary Lynne Dittmar, the coalitions, executive director. “The robust funding levels achieved in the omnibus will support the continuing development of America’s new space exploration systems.”
To date, the Commercial Crew Program primarily has supported unmanned cargo resupply missions to the ISS. NASA intends to resume manned missions to the space station in 2017 or 2018, using Boeing and SpaceX to shuttle astronauts to and from the space station after many years of relying on Russian space agency Roscosmos to do so.