With astronaut duo Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley successfully went back home aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon craft, interest on the space agency and its body of work have been boosted significantly with millions glued on their television screens and smartphone devices to witness the historic event. NASA’s official social media handles over Twitter has seen an increase in engagement with users all around the world in the past few years.
Not only that, last week, NASA’s launch of its Perseverance rover aboard its Mars 2020 mission also gained significant media coverage – catapulting favorable views of the agency to the masses significantly in a short period of time.
In a report on the Washington Post, Jim Bridenstine, administrator of NASA, did not hide his excitement and plan to make the most of the momentous event.
In a press conference on the astronaut duo’s return, he declared that NASA hasn’t lost its sparkle yet and they’re bound to achieve greater things – albeit Congress is yet to support them fully in the form of approving them the budgets that they’ve asked for.
“What I’m asking our members of Congress to do is look at what we’ve done with what we have,” he was reported saying. Then he also laid down NASA’s plans of conducting future missions on the moon and Mars.
“And if you fund us at our budget request level, we will be on the moon. . . . The next step is we’re going to the moon and then onto Mars. This is about momentum. It starts today, and it finishes when we put an American flag on Mars,” he added.
Lack of Congressional support and funding
There are a lot of projects NASA has on the pipeline. These projects include launching the Orion to the moon without astronauts. They are also aiming to launch its most powerful telescope, the James Webb, as well as sending a mission over to Jupiter to explore its Trojan asteroids.
One prime example of how the United States Congress is seen not giving its full support to the space agency is the debate on its Artemis program.
Artemis is NASA’s flagship program which aims to send astronauts back to the moon by 2024. It was originally planned to take place in 2028 however the White House asked NASA to speed up their timeline.
This resulted in an increased budget being asked from Congress next year- $35 billion compared to its earlier budget iteration of $25.2 billion. But the House of Representatives only approved $22.6 billion while the Senate is yet to tackle the budget.
However, this did not deter NASA’s Bridenstine has lobbied hard for the passage of the budget increase of the agency with his former colleagues in Congress.
Skepticism towards NASA’s ability to perform and deliver results have been prevalent throughout the years as they experience a series of setbacks from several of its missions.
The James Webb, even though slated for launch next year, has gone through a lot of technical difficulties as well as going over the set budget countless times before being declared ready for launch.
Also, another one of these blunders is NASA’s partnership with Boeing on its Space Launch System, which like the James Webb, experienced a series of delays and cost overruns. The craft that will be built during the program will be eventually owned by NASA. This is a different arrangement compared to SpaceX as the space agency only hires it to send its astronauts to space.
This series of partnerships with private tech firms reiterate NASA’s plans to abandon routine missions to them and focus on developing technology for deep space exploration.
Now the question worth asking is will these series of recent successes make Congress reconsider its past actions and give NASA its much-needed boost to keep its momentum?
Only time and the results of its future missions could tell.