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Congress Boosts NASA’s Funding for Deep Space Exploration

Through the House Appropriations Bill recently signed into law, Congress approved $178 billion for NASA, a $650 million cut from last year, and $924 million less that President Obama requested in February.

Despite the overall cut, NASA did see some major increases, particularly in the areas of deep space exploration, as the agency has been working to send astronauts far beyond low Earth orbit.

Congress boosted funding for NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion MPCV), from the agency’s original request of $190 million to $1.2 billion. In addition, Congress bumped up spending to $1.80 billion for Orion MPCV’s new Space Launch System (SLS), $60 million more than NASA’s original request.

Congress also allocated $529.6 million in 2012 for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, (JWST) $155.9 million more than the agency requested. The JWST a large, infrared-optimized space telescope, will ultimately replace the Hubble Space Telescope, which was deployed in 1990.

“Many concepts are possible for crew-exploration vehicles, and NASA clearly needs a new spacecraft for travel beyond low-Earth orbit,” wrote the U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee in a review. “If the United States is willing to lead a global program of exploration, sharing both the burden and benefit of space exploration in a meaningful way, significant benefits could follow.”

In August, 2006, NASA reported Lockheed Martin was awarded an $8 million contract to design, develop and build the Orion MPCV. The agency also said the spacecraft will be capable of transporting four crew members at a time for deep space missions, and up to six crew members for missions to the international space station. NASA reported they are working to begin testing on the Orion MPCV by 2014.

According to NASA’s website, the SLS will serve as the initial thrust to send the Orion MPCV to “asteroids, the moon, Lagrange points, and ultimately… to Mars.”

The liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propelled system will have an initial lift of 70 metric tons, where the lift capacity will be evolvable to 130 metric tons. Alliant Techsystems Inc., will be responsible for building the major motors for the SLS system.

NASA reported they hope to complete the first development flight or mission, by the end of 2017. (For a fact sheet on the SLS rocket visit, here)

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