US Senate Committee approves $19.5 billion 2017 budget for NASA

Members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed a bipartisan bill authorizing $19.5 billion for NASA. The bill includes wording to have a crewed Mars mission by 2041. It also requires NASA to send astronauts on private rockets to the International Space Station from U.S. soil — regardless of shifting political winds.

The $19.5 billion authorized for fiscal 2017 under the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2016 is the same amount approved by House appropriators and slightly more than the $19.3 billion approved by members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It’s not clear when the Senate bill will reach the floor, where it’s expected to pass.

Under the Senate bill, NASA would have an official goal of sending a crewed mission to Mars within the next 25 years, the first time a trip to the Red Planet would be mandated by law.

• Direct NASA to continue working on the Space Launch System and Orion multi-purpose vehicle that are the linchpins of a planned mission to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. The bill includes specific milestones for an uncrewed exploration mission by 2018 and a crewed exploration mission by 2021.

• Require development of an advanced space suit to protect astronauts on a Mars mission.

• Continue development of the Commercial Crew Program designed to send astronauts to the space station — no later than 2018 — on private rockets launched from U.S. soil.

• Expand the full use and life of the space station through 2024 while laying the foundation for use through 2028.

• Allow greater opportunities for aerospace companies to conduct business in Low Earth Orbit