Trump signs NASA bill aimed at sending people to Mars

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President Trump just signed a bill authorizing $19.5 billion in funding for NASA — the first such authorization bill for the space agency in seven years.

The bill more or less aligns with the budget blueprint Trump laid out last week. NASA won’t face the same cuts as other science and medical agencies, which stand to lose huge portions of their budget under the president’s proposal. Sending humans to Mars by the 2030s remains NASA’s long-term goal, and Congress will continue to fund the construction of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule for that mission.

“I think it’s really more of a vote for stability,” said Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. He noted that the passage of the last NASA authorization bill in 2010 was fairly chaotic, since it involved ending the Constellation program that would have sent astronauts to the moon.

This year’s bill left NASA’s Earth science budget untouched — for now. Earth science would see a 5 percent cut in the president’s blueprint, and Trump made clear Tuesday that he thinks NASA should be focused on deep space, not Earth.

“It’s been a long time since a bill like this has been signed reaffirming our national commitment to the core mission of NASA, human space exploration, space science and technology,” he said. Later he added, “We support jobs. It’s about jobs.”

The bill, which was passed with bipartisan support, can be read in full here. Here are highlights from the bill signing:

Astronauts will get health care for life

The TREAT Astronauts Act included in the bill will finally mandate that NASA pay for monitoring, diagnosis and treatment of any health problems related to spaceflight for all former astronauts. The space agency has long monitored its astronauts for health problems after their time in space was over — that’s how we know about visual impairment intracranial pressure syndrome, eye damage caused by microgravity. But NASA couldn’t treat any problems that were found; it could only refer astronauts back to their primary-care doctors. In 2010, then-administrator Charles Bolden asked Congress to guarantee lifetime benefits for astronauts. He was opposed by the union that represents many NASA civil servants, according to the Wall Street Journal, because his proposal benefited only a small group of people.

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