Today, NASA unveiled its budget request for Fiscal Year 2015. In a teleconference discussing the budget, NASA Administrator Charlie Borden focused on salient aspects of the budget, which will remain basically the same as this year if approved. Here are some of the most significant things next year's budget would make possible:
As a step towards launching a manned mission to Mars by 2030, NASA plans to send people to asteroids by 2025. Scientists would redirect a small asteroid into near-Earth orbit so that astronauts can practice landing on the projectile and explore its features, according to FloridaToday.com.
The plan was announced over the summer, and could feature an elaborate robot spacecraft that would lasso the asteroid into orbit using an "asteroid capture bag." The research would also help researchers learn about asteroids that could potentially crash into Earth.
NASA has been pushing to work with private companies to develop commercial crews that will bring American astronauts to the International Space Station. In a teleconference on the budget today, NASA Administrator Charlie Borden said the commercial transport would mean the U.S. could stop relying on Russian crews for flights -- an appeal that is especially poignant as Russian President Vladimir Putins rattles his saber in Crimea. According to The Wall Street Journal, the focus on "private taxis" that will take astronauts into orbit is a departure for NASA:
The agency wants to spend $848 million, or roughly 40% above current outlays, to support work on commercial vehicles intended to take astronauts to the international space station. In addition, NASA is asking Congress for an extra $250 million supplement to those accounts to ensure competition and keep companies on track to start ferrying astronauts in 2017.
The taxis would also bring private cargo to space, which could be used for more research there.
Deep Space Exploration
In addition to using the asteroid program as a stepping stone to Mars, NASA will focus on sending astronauts into deep space with the planned Orion mission. The plan is for NASA to launch astronauts "farther into the solar system than we have ever gone before." The capsule is set to launch on a test flight later this year.
Bolden: #Budget funds the Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicle to take American astronauts farther into the solar system than before.— NASA (@NASA) March 4, 2014
The plan isn't new, but it's still pretty exciting.
James Webb Space Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is set to replace the beloved Hubble Telescope in 2018, and the new budget keeps this plan on track. The telescope can detect infrared light, making it more sensitive than Hubble. According to NASA:
Webb is designed to look deeper into space to see the earliest stars and galaxies that formed in the Universe and to look deep into nearby dust clouds to study the formation of stars and planets.... Webb will operate much farther from Earth, maintaining its extremely cold operating temperature, stable pointing and higher observing efficiency than with the Earth-orbiting Hubble. Here is a feature that contrasts Webb with Hubble.
The telescope was cancelled by Congress in 2011 and has suffered budgetary difficulties, so we're glad to see it back on track. Now it's even going to SXSW!
As always, NASA reminds us, space exploration is about making things better here on Earth until we can all escape to an arid Martian wasteland. For one thing, improved aeronautic technology could be used commercially on Earth.
For another, the budget will include money to be spent on improving climate models and examining climate change -- so we can stay on Earth as long as possible.