New advances made by aerospace engineers in both the public and private sectors have reasserted America’s leadership in space and reignited interest in the possibilities of exploring new planets and moons. For those of us who are space enthusiasts, or work in the aerospace industry, it’s a welcome change from the past decade when it appeared that other countries might leap to the forefront.
Just last month, SpaceX successfully performed a vertical landing of its Falcon 9 booster after the rocket delivered 11 satellites into orbit – the first landing of its kind. This type of “reusable” rocket is a major breakthrough, and could change the way we go to space in the future. And last year, NASA’s New Horizons space probe was the first mission to successfully rendezvous with Pluto and take detailed photos and provide valuable information on the dwarf planet in the furthest reaches of our solar system. And of course, few recent discoveries have caused as much excitement as the new evidence of water flowing on Mars.
With momentum building behind space travel and discovery, we must continue to support these scientific feats by funding NASA and, in particular, the planetary sciences, at levels that will help guarantee the success of future flagship missions in space. Such missions are the mainstay of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and many of its amazing scientists.
After years of struggle to convince lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the White House of the benefit of investment in planetary science, we are now on track to fully fund this critical field at the levels necessary to complete our core objectives. Following a bipartisan budget agreement to raise the spending levels for fiscal years (FY) 2016 and 2017, Congress passed a spending bill for FY16 that dramatically increases funding from the previous year by $1.3 billion for NASA and $194 million for planetary science.
After years of discouraging news, this new investment was a most welcome change.
Many people, myself included, have been discouraged by the extreme partisanship in our current political institutions – especially in Congress. But none of this would have been possible without the leadership of my colleague, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX). Ever since our election together to Congress in 2000, John and I have broken the partisan mold and worked hand-in-hand to keep NASA healthy and support the top priorities of scientists as reflected in the decadal survey.
The budget we both championed is particularly good news for two exciting projects that JPL has been working on – a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa and another to Mars in 2020. Funding for these two missions is explicitly directed in the budget language, and will remain on track. We have already seen the importance of the Mars missions as they have continued to challenge our understanding of that planet’s history and our own. The Mars 2020 mission is the critical next step to finding answers about potential life on Mars. Upon landing, the rover will collect and store samples of the red planet for a potential return to Earth.
The Europa mission is also pathbreaking. Rep. Culberson and I share the conviction of many scientists that underneath that moon’s icy crust may be the best venue to find other life in our solar system. Getting there will be a new challenge for NASA and JPL, but we are confident in their ability to deliver miracles.
Our country has witnessed an impressive resurgence in its dedication to space exploration and this funding increase puts America back on track for another period of sustained leadership in space.
Now off to Mars, Europa, and beyond!
Rep. Adam Schiff represents California’s 28th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.