Good news: The only thing standing between NASA and $20bn is...
Oh. US President Donald Trump's signature. And he's threatening a veto
Updated US Congress has approved a $1.3tr budget [PDF] that would see, among other science boosts, NASA's funding surpass $20bn.
That $20.7bn check is $1.6bn more than expected.
The spending bill will avoid a government shutdown and provide funding through September 30, provided President Donald Trump signs it off. Earlier today, he threatened to veto it over DACA and immigration. A press conference will be held in an hour by the president on the budget – which, by the way, streamlines cloud spying powers for the FBI and cops.
The spending bill – which bankrolls a wide range of government departments and agencies, not just NASA – passed 65-32 in the Senate, and 256-167 in the House.
While there is no word yet on the eventual fate of everyone's favourite little-rover-that-could, the sum reverses every major cut that the Trump administration had made to NASA's budget and adds some additional funding on top, just for good measure.
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Earth sciences was a surprising winner, with missions such as the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud and ocean Ecosystem orbiter one of several to have its neck removed from the chopping block.
NASA's Education division, which was due to be completely eliminated, has also had its funding restored to the tune of $100m.
Solar system exploration saw a bump to $595m to be spent on the mission to Europa (which includes a lander) with $660m going on missions to Mars. Not enough for humans, but enough to keep hopes of a sample return mission alive.
There was also specific language directing NASA to spend $23m on developing a Mars helicopter.
The usual cash-guzzling suspects are present and correct, with the over-budget James Webb Space Telescope consuming another $533m and the troubled Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, which was up for cancellation, living on a bit longer to the tune of $150m.
$75m will be heading towards Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (PDF), which is key to cutting journey times on deep space missions, while NASA has been directed to spaff $350m on a second mobile launch platform for its delayed Space Launch System.
The latter point is interesting, since NASA had felt that one mobile launcher would be sufficient (deleting it from the FY2019 budget request).
Congress disagrees, possibly looking at the existing leaning tower, which will need considerable modifications should the first SLS launch get off without exploding. Lawmakers agreed with NASA's own Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (PDF) that a second, purpose-built launcher would be prudent.
While more money is always a good thing for science, it is worth remembering that even with decade-high levels of funding, NASA only accounts for 0.4 per cent of the federal budget. Quite a bit down on the 5.5 per cent in the glory days of Apollo.
The adage "no bucks, no Buck Rogers" will always apply when it comes to space exploration. ®
Updated to add
President Trump has signed off on the spending bill after complaining that he was unhappy with some of the legislation.
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