Last week the U.S. House of Representatives with its Republican majority made a commendable move representing NASA in a surprisingly more liberal move than President Obama’s stance. The House passed the Fiscal Year 2015 appropriations bill for Commerce-Justice-Science. In their recommended budget, NASA would receive $17.461 billion, a $435 million increase from the President’s requested funding for the space program. While the House’s recommended budget would be smaller than what NASA received for 2014, compared to the White House’s proposal it would be that much more to work with in 2015 to realize NASA’s big aspirations.
Of course, the House’s recommended budget will go through a series of reviews and compromises before it is set in stone, during which time it could see dramatic revisions. The process began with the White House’s initial NASA budget request being transferred to the House, who revised it and then will send it to the Senate, where different proposed budgets might be debated, a comprise is reached and then is sent to be signed by the president.
Even facing an almost certainly smaller budget next year than this year, NASA has big aspirations for the future. NASA will be testing its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, sometimes known as NASA’s flying saucer, over Hawaii within the next few days, weather permitting. The “flying saucer,” which will be suspended by a giant helium-filled balloon 34 million cubic feet in size, was scheduled to embark over Kauai on Thursday, but weather forced a postponement. NASA will attempt the launch again on this month on the 7, 9, 11, or 14. After reaching altitudes of 23 miles, the balloon will detach while four rockets on the spacecraft fire and propel the craft four times the speed of sound. The craft will then deploy brakes in fractions of a second to prepare it for an ocean landing. Weather permitting.
The plan to send the saucer 23 miles into the atmosphere is calculated to simulate the sort of environment a vehicle would face in the Martian atmosphere. NASA is seeking to send a manned flight to Mars, a horizon goal set far into the future and embattled by political controversy. A Congressionally-mandated National Research Council (NRC) report said the plan would not keep pace with inflation and would “invite… disillusionment” from the international community.
However, the Obama administration has tentatively supported the Asteroid Redirect Mission. This mission would relocate an asteroid orbiting the sun to orbit the moon using a robotic spacecraft. Then, a team of astronauts would be deployed to take samples from the rock. This mission seems the most feasible of the large-scale NASA plans as it would provide a singular purpose to the underway projects of the Orion capsule and the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket.
Although NASA retired its space fleet in 2011, the space program is outlining a master plan to dramatically expand and update the Kennedy Space Center by 2032. NASA seeks to make the Florida-based launch site an enticing launch pad not only for their possible future missions, but for the burgeoning industry of commercial space exploration. SpaceX is but one example of a company with non-terrestrial goals, as showcased by their recent introduction of the Dragon V2 craft, designed to send manned flights to the International Space Station.
The NRC committee posed the question of why money should be spent sending people to space. Many people are advocating for leaving space missions to the young and lower-capacity private sector in the future. One response to this query is the finds of the recent analysis of moon rocks retrieved by the Apollo Missions, which showed evidence of non-Earth originating rock and goes a long way to help prove the collision theory. The collision theory states that Earth and another planet, named Theia, could have collided with the resultant debris forming into the Moon.
“This confirms the giant impact hypothesis”, said University of Goattingen’s Dr. Daniel Herwartz, who led the study. This revelation, made possible by NASA’s gathering of lunar rock samples, makes a strong case for the continuation of NASA’s future aspirations, and advocating for its increasingly small budget to see a better day.
By Jesse Eells-Adams