Trump bill adds Mars exploration to Nasa remit

A Nasa-led mission to Mars is one step closer after US President Donald Trump signed a bill into law that updates the space agency’s mission to add exploration of the red planet.

The bill authorises $19.5bn (£15.2bn) in spending for the US space agency for the current budget year.

It is the first time in seven years that there has been an authorisation bill for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, also known as Nasa, said Republican Senator Ted Cruz, a chief sponsor of the bill.

Cruz joined several astronauts and other politicians in the Oval Office to watch Mr Trump sign the bill.

Last week, Trump sent Congress a budget proposal that would authorise $19.1bn in agency spending next year.

Congress appropriates funding for all government departments and agencies.

“For almost six decades, Nasa’s work has inspired millions and millions of Americans to imagine distant worlds and a better future right here on Earth,” Trump said.

“I’m delighted to sign this bill. It’s been a long time since a bill like this has been signed, reaffirming our commitment to the core mission of Nasa: human space exploration, space science and technology.”

The measure amends current law to add human exploration of the red planet as a goal for the agency.

It supports use of the International Space Station through until at least 2024, along with private sector companies partnering with Nasa to deliver cargo and experiments, among other steps.

Trump invited several politicians to comment after the signing, starting with Cruz before moving on to Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

When Trump invited Vice President Mike Pence to speak, Pence suggested that former astronaut and Democratic Senator Bill Nelson be allowed to say a few words.

“He’s a Democrat. I wasn’t going to let him speak,” Trump quipped, to laughter.

Nelson did say a few words, praising the bill for putting the agency on a “dual track” with commercial companies making round trips to the International Space Station and Nasa continuing to explore the universe.

In October, then US President Barack Obama said he would help send people to Mars as soon as 14 years from now, pledging to work with private companies to “to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space.” 

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