President Donald Trump has signed an advisory bill that authorized funding of $19.5 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the first of its kind given to NASA in the past seven years.

The budget, which was actually $400 million higher than the initial proposal of $19.1 billion, shifts the focus of NASA on being able to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. However, to be able to achieve the mission, NASA will need to discontinue several other projects.

NASA Funding For The International Space Station

The ability of NASA and the United States to send astronauts to Mars within about two decades will partly depend on a reduction, or perhaps even a total end, on the funding that the government provides for the International Space Station beyond 2024.

NASA currently spends around $3.5 billion annually on the ISS program, including around $1.7 billion for the transportation of crew members and cargo, $1 billion for operations, and between $700 million and $800 million for research. The space station also received another $1 billion in funding from the program's partners, which include Canada, Japan, Europe, and Russia.

The budget that NASA allocates for the ISS takes up about half of its spending on human space exploration programs. The remaining budget is mostly taken up by the Space Launch System and the Orion deep-space capsule, with the funding for both programs expected to remain at the current level beyond the development phase and into the manufacturing and operations stages.

The Future Of The ISS

With the renewed focus on the crewed Mars mission and limited budgets for other programs, questions are now being asked regarding the future of the ISS.

In 2015, Congress extended the operations of the ISS until 2024, but what will happen beyond that year to the space station is now being discussed.

"We ought to be aware that remaining on the ISS [after 2024] will come at a cost," said Rep. Brian Babin, the Texas Republican who is the chair of the House Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Space. Babin believes that NASA's sponsorship of the ISS beyond 2024 could hold back the mission to send astronauts to Mars.

"The longer we operate the ISS, the longer it will take to get to Mars," Babin said in a hearing.

NASA previously noted that it would eventually look to hand over control, as well as funding, of the ISS to private companies as the agency moves its focus on missions beyond the lower Earth orbit. However, it is unlikely that private space firms will be ready to take over the space station by 2024.

Commercial Spaceflight Federation President Eric Stallmer proposed to extend NASA's operations of the ISS to 2028, which would give more time for private companies to team up with the agency for the space station. Coalition for Deep Space Executive Director Mary Lynne Dittmar approved Stallmer's idea, but argued that for the transition of the ISS to the private sector to succeed, there should first be plans for multiple ways to make revenue through the space station.

There is currently no clear answer on what will happen to the ISS beyond 2024. Seven years is a short time in the realm of space exploration, so NASA will likely come up with a plan soon.

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.