House gives NASA more money to explore planets


A self-portrait of the Mars rover Curiosity in February  2013. (JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NASA via Reuters)

A House appropriations bill has increased the amount of money budgeted for the study of planetary science at NASA, missions that will, among other things, lead to human exploration of Mars.

The Commerce, Justice and Science Committee's draft proposal calls for $1.45 billion to go toward planetary science, including $302 million for the Mars program. The White House had asked for $1.28 billion in its budget.

"I'm really thrilled with the numbers we were able to get for planetary science and maintain our leadership and answer questions we have never answered," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in an interview. Schiff's district includes NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Schiff called planetary science one of the "crown jewels" of NASA.

The Mars exploration program is trying to understand the Martian environment so NASA can eventually send people there. The Mars Curiosity Rover is part of that effort. The rover is combing the surface of the planet and sending back data. At least $100 million of the money put toward the Mars program is for the Mars 2020 rover, which will be deployed that year and will be a significant step toward sending people to Mars.

Another $100 million is for the Europa Clipper mission, a plan still under study that would explore Jupiter's icy moon Europa.

The funding does not address one of NASA's biggest issues: that it still heavily relies on Russia for certain programs, including engines for it Soyuz rockets and ferrying American astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Despite sanctions against Russia, NASA is continuing its contract with Russia to bring astronauts to the space station — at a price of $457.9  million.

Katie Zezima is a national political correspondent covering the 2016 presidential election. She previously served as a White House correspondent for The Post.

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