President Barack Obama wants the United States to expand its influence in the space business big time, and he’s asking Congress for the money to do it, proposing an $18.5 billion budget for NASA in fiscal 2016.
Charles Bolden, NASA’s administrator, hailed the decision as one that will allow the agency to further progress toward a manned space flight toward Mars in 2024 and said they would also be seeking to explore Jupiter’s moon, Europa, according to a Discovery News report.
He also stated that the decision to hand over a number of resupply missions to the International Space Station to private companies such as SpaceX had been a success, and that crew flights could come as soon as 2017.
The president’s $4 trillion budget plan proposed this week will face a heavy battle with the Republican-controlled Congress that is seeking to limit spending, although NASA tends to enjoy support from both parties.
The $18.5 billion request for NASA would be an increase of half a billion dollars over last year’s budget, and represents a “clear vote of confidence” in NASA with its space exploration programs, Bolden said shortly after the budget’s release.
In the meantime, NASA will continue to prepare for a manned mission to Mars and to continue development of advanced solar electric propulsion systems that would be required to conduct an asteroid redirect mission. The agency has already located several candidates for asteroid capture, Bolden said.
He also hinted at a mission to Europa, although he did not go into detail. He said the agency would be selecting instruments this spring and moving on to the next phase of work with that project. Just a few years ago, NASA had sent a solar-powered spacecraft called Juno toward Jupiter, which will arrive there in July 2016.
Budget cuts hampered NASA in recent years, forcing the agency just a few years ago to shutter its shuttle program for good after 30 years in operation. However, interest in space exploration has expanded in recent years and private companies have stepped in to fill the void in some areas.