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Congress Passes Space Exploration Act, Targets Mars

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Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have officially passed the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, a piece of legislation that grants $19.5 billion to the agency to get humans to Mars within the next two decades.

Members of Congress have stated that NASA is tasked with getting human beings "near or on the surface of Mars in the 2030s," according to the language of the bill itself: "It is the sense of Congress that -- (1) expanding human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and advancing toward human missions to Mars in the 2030s requires early strategic planning and timely decisions to be made in the near-term on the necessary courses of action for commitments to achieve short-term and long-term goals and objective."

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NASA received $19.3 billion in federal money during 2016.

The document details not only Mars and Mars orbit as possible destinations for targeted space exploration, but interim destinations as well, such as cislunar space and the moons of Mars.

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To accomplish this, the newly recognized bill orders the design and construction of a "Space Launch System," a rocket of massive scale that will be able to propel a space capsule across the chasm of space between Earth and Mars.

The Act calls for "a specific process for the evolution of the capabilities of the fully integrated Orion with the Space Launch System," as well as an explanation of how these specifications will help further the cause of getting a human safely to Mars.

The lengthy bill does not limit itself to the subject of traveling to Mars, either, but continues with a list of auxiliary projects that could further humanity's exploration of space.

The bill approved a long-standing plan NASA has had to send a probe to Europa, a moon of Jupiter that may host a subsurface ocean.

The Act details numerous other explorations of "near-Earth objects" and exoplanets, and also calls for NASA to design and build probes and instruments to gather critically important data.

President Donald Trump has shared brief words about Congress' move to further space exploration, saying he is "ready to unlock the mysteries of space."

Though reportedly supportive of continued exploration of the moon, President Trump has expressed an intent to end NASA's long-established studies of Earth and its climate.

Trump has not yet made public any plans he may have to sign or veto the bill, though the passage of the bill is a likely prospect, according to Business Insider.

Sources: Business Insider, U.S. Congress / Photo Credit: NASA/Flickr