Today, US President Donald Trump signed S.442, AKA the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which authorises $US19.5 billion ($25.4 billion) in funding for the agency in 2018. The bill emphasises the importance of human spaceflight and exploring the solar system -- but says nothing about the president's plan to slash NASA's entire educational department.
"I'm delighted to sign this bill," Trump told reporters. "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."
Trump's comments during the bill signing are by far the most America's new president has said about NASA since he's taken office. The bill reaffirms NASA's commitment to sending crewed missions to Mars and emphasises commercial partnerships, including the Commercial Crew Program through which NASA hopes to start launching American astronauts into space off US soil as soon as next year. After the signing, vice president Mike Pence also reiterated the president's plan to resurrect the National Space Council, which has, in the past, counselled the president on aerospace related endeavours.
That's all fine. But the real highlight of the press event was when Trump turned to Texas Senator Ted Cruz and asked if he'd be up for the job of space exploration. Cruz, who's handled much conflict in his time in the public spotlight -- from losing the Republican primary to donning this questionable Phantom of the Opera costume -- was not up for the task. Or was he?
"We could send Congress into space," he replied sheepishly. By definition, that means he's going up there, too.
Here's video of President Trump talking with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio about brig astronauts. pic.twitter.com/yiKhQ44Awk
— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) March 21, 2017
Whether or not Cruz blasts himself off into space (fingers crossed), S.442 thankfully spared NASA's earth science program -- at least, it makes no mention of it one way or another. Considering Earth is the planet we currently live on and we've done a terrible job taking care of it, we should probably be grateful this vital function of NASA isn't being scrapped entirely.
Unfortunately, Ted Cruz still lives here, but if all goes according to plan, he and the rest of congress will eventually become residents of the final frontier.