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House NASA spending bill has language concerning asteroid, Mars flyby missions

Mars from the Hubble space telescope
Mars from the Hubble space telescope

When appropriators pass spending bills they often include guidance language that stipulate how the money should be spent. The 2015 spending bill for NASA is no exception. According to a Wednesday post on the Space Policy Online blog, the House is trying to provide some guidance on how space exploration money is spent.

Congress has always been skeptical about President Obama’s mission to an asteroid, including the Asteroid Retrieval Mission that would snag a small asteroid and place it in lunar orbit to be visited later by astronauts. That skepticism is reflected in the NASA spending bill. The language stipulates that no money should be spent on the ARM project that would not also be applicable to other destinations, such as the moon, the moons of Mars, and Mars itself.

A proposal called Inspiration Mars, which would send a spacecraft on a flyby mission around both Venus and Mars, found a little bit more favor in the House spending bill. The bill’s language calls for an independent assessment of the scheme, including its feasibility as well as its impact on the Orion/Space Launch System program. The flyby mission was recently endorsed by former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin.

In the meantime, Paul Spudis, a planetary geologist who writes frequently about space issues, roundly condemned both ARM and Inspiration Mars as “stupid space tricks.” Spudis’ contention is that neither scheme has a sufficient rationale to justify the cost or the rationale for pursuing them. Spudis is an advocate of a human return to the moon, which he suggests has near term more scientific value than either a mission to an asteroid or to Mars.

The House, in the past, has attempted to insert language in NASA spending bills mandating a return to the moon. President Obama cancelled a lunar return in 2010. Since then NASA has studiously avoided any commitment to lunar exploration, though it has served as a cheer leader and advisor for private efforts.