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What’s NASA up to up there?

Is NASA priority?

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has sent 24 people and more than 250 robotic spacecraft into space since its birth in 1958. In 1969, the United States saw the Apollo 11 mission begin with a launch into space by 7.5 million pounds of thrust, propelling three astronauts into space to complete a journey that would allow man to walk on the moon. At the time of the mission, NASA’s budget accounted for more than two percent of the federal budget according to the Universities Space Research Association. Around 1966, NASA was allotted nearly 4.5 percent of the federal budget. 1966 saw NASA spend $5.9 billion, which would be equivalent to somewhere around $43 billion today, a detail noted by the Washington Post. In 2016, NASA spent $19.3 billion according to The Atlantic. The percentage of the federal budget dedicated to space exploration has consistently decreased since the late 1960s. Recent proposals for NASA’s budget alteration have hung around one half of a percent of the total federal budget, with some fluctuation.

How do the current numbers look?

The relationships between recent U.S. presidents and NASA have been an interesting one to watch, while George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump have worked to balance what seems to be an interest in boosting America’s space exploration initiatives and an ever-more-challenging budget at the federal level. In February, Trump requested a $19.9 billion budget for NASA’s 2019 fiscal year. This is $500 million more than the 2018 NASA budget request and 61 million below 2017’s funding level according to Earth and Space Science News.

How is Trump changing America’s approach to space? 

On December 11, 2017, Trump signed a document called Space Policy Directive 1, which changes national space policy. According to NASA, the change allows “for a U.S.-led, integrated program with private sector partners for a human return to the moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond.”

NASA released a statement after the directive, saying that the new plan calls for humans to visit the moon once again, and that it terminates current efforts to send humans to an asteroid.

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery. It marks the first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints—we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond.”

What is NASA doing with the money?

Even though NASA isn’t in the headlines everyday, various projects, including those involving humans in space, are happening. Two NASA astronauts currently in space are Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold. The Expedition 55 Flight Engineers went on the fourth spacewalk of the year on March 29, 2018. The walk lasted over six hours, with the engineers performing various tasks while “walking.” Feustel, a Lake Orion, Michigan native, has been in space a total of more than 29 days collectively in space. Arnold, a Maryland native, has over 12 days of in-space experience.

Missions have been happening for several years with the purpose of preparing NASA to send astronauts to Mars, which is, on average, 140 million miles, away from Earth. The moon is typically between 252,088 and 225,623 miles away from earth. Sending humans to Mars presents an unusual challenge, because astronauts will be in space for a much greater amount of time.

Mars is a primary focus right now, and NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has been climbing the same mound since 2014. NASA says scientists are eager to explore the mound, called Mount Sharp, to find out more about the role of water in creating the mound. NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander is planned to study “the deep interior of Mars to learn how all rocky planets formed, including Earth and its moon.” The lander will work using seismometer, detecting marsquakes.