The National Aeronautics and Space Administration may be about to receive its biggest budget in at least half a decade. Congress is currently considering an omnibus bill that includes a $19.3 billion allocation for NASA — $756 million more than NASA’s requested budget.
NASA, it might be said, is infamously and perennially underfunded. In an interview with the Atlantic, Casey Dreier, the director of advocacy at the Planetary Society, compared NASA’s prodigious load of tasks with its often-reduced budget as carrying “twenty pounds of missions in a 10-pound bag.” He explained that, “The nation asks it to do all its stuff and then gives it half the money that it needs.” This proposed, and likely to pass, budget, then, is exciting news.
NASA is often associated with space exploration and rocket ships, but is responsible for so much more than that, in very down-to-earth ways. Many of NASA’s technologies have been adapted to non-space related purposes, including technology that has been used to aid women suffering from postpartum hemorrhaging, turning waste plastic into useful petroleum products, and helping create a new treatment for osteoporosis. NASA is also on the forefront of analyzing climate and weather patterns, such as tracking El Niño and assessing climate change and its effects.
While not all divisions of NASA, such as Earth science, will receive a higher than expected budget, almost all divisions will at least receive more funding than in recent years. One of the biggest recipients of the budget is the Space Launch System (SLS), which will be, according to NASA, the most powerful rocket ever built and will allow astronauts to travel deeper into the solar system than ever before. The SLS will eventually allow robotic scientific missions to far-flung planets, including Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter.
The proposed omnibus budget includes $175 million for a mission to Europa, Jupiter’s moon. The goals of that mission include determining the existence of a hypothesized subsurface ocean under its icy shell and searching for extraterrestrial life within that water. This mission, among others, is included in NASA’s planetary science division, which had its budget slashed by 25 percent earlier this decade. The 2016 budget, if passed, will restore much-needed levels of funding.
The commercial crew budget will receive $1.3 billion, with the program focusing on ending NASA’s reliance on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station, which will allow crewed missions to once again launch from American soil.
While the 2,000-page omnibus budget bill includes the controversial Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015 (CISA), which many fear grants the government unprecedented surveillance access, the high budget allocated to NASA represents a progressive step toward scientific exploration and the care of our planet.
NASA, in all its multitudinous divisions and sundry programs, including education, space technology, and Earth and planetary sciences, is helping benefit life here on our home planet, and, with this increased budget, will hopefully be able to go above and beyond in its advances and technologies.