Last year, NASA had a number of major successes, including finding liquid water on Mars and icy mountains on Pluto. These discoveries led Congress to give the organization a raise, approving a budget of $19.3 billion.
The budget for this year is actually $1.27 billion more than what the Obama administration had requested. However, it does come with some requirements. Congress is instructing NASA to use at least $55 million to construct a prototype model of a deep space habitat.
An omnibus bill passed by Congress this month directs NASA to accelerate work on a “habitation augmentation module” that could be used for future deep space missions.
The Exploration Research And Development line item in the budget received an allocation of $350 million. The funding for the habitation module will be a part of the Advanced Exploration Systems program, which is a part of the aforementioned line item.
It states that “NASA shall develop a prototype deep space habitation module within the advanced exploration systems program.” In addition, NASA will be required to provide Congress with a report within 180 days of the bill’s enactment that details how those funds are being used to create the habitation module.
Congress is looking for quick results; they want everything done by 2018. So how will NASA do this?
Well, NASA has spent much of the last year voicing a desire to get humans to Mars by the 2030s. A habitation module that sits between Earth and the moon could be used for the manned missions to Mars that NASA hopes to carry out.
Sam Scimemi, International Space Station director at NASA Headquarters, stated that he envisions testing out the habitation module and other key technologies in a year-long “shakedown cruise” in cislunar space by the late 2020s.
The agency has already funded several industry studies of habitation module concepts under its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP program.