Legislation to be unveiled Wednesday in the Senate would authorize NASA to move ahead with its plan to lasso an asteroid as part of its mission to send astronauts to Mars within the next two decades.
The $18.1 billion blueprint is in line with spending levels proposed for NASA in a Senate appropriations bill expected to pass Thursday. Penned by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a former astronaut, the authorizing bill has the backing of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
“While our spending plan this year is not as much we’d like NASA to have, it should provide the agency with the resources it needs to continue its mission to deep space and eventually Mars,” Nelson said.
He expected to file the bill Wednesday afternoon, a day before a NASA public forum on the administration’s plan to snag an asteroid by 2025.
The proposed effort, which would cost $105 million in the next fiscal year, involves lassoing a streaking asteroid with a large baglike mechanism, then dragging it into the moon’s orbit where astronauts could explore it.
“This mission to identify, capture, redirect, and sample a small asteroid would mark an unprecedented technological feat that will raise the bar of what humans can do in space,” NASA said in a section of its 2014 budget request. “And it would provide invaluable new data on the threats asteroids pose to our home planet and how they could be mitigated.”
Success would be seen as a major step toward President Obama’s stated goal of putting a man on Mars by the mid-2030s.
But the appropriations and authorization bills for NASA in the House would expressly prohibit the mission.
“The Administrator may not fund the development of an asteroid retrieval mission to send a robotic spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid for rendezvous, retrieval, and redirection of that asteroid to lunar orbit for exploration by astronauts,” the House language reads.
Republicans in the lower chamber favor a different route to Mars — one that involves first setting up an outpost on the moon.