Rejecting funding for an asteroid mission, the House Science Committee on Thursday dealt a major blow to NASA and to President Obama’s broader space exploration plans.
With a 22-17 vote, which would authorize $16.8 billion for NASA, the committee specified language that bars the agency from a mission that would utilize a robot to capture a small asteroid, drag it into a new orbit, and eventually send humans out to collect samples. Instead, the bill would shift focus to sending humans back to the moon, possibly by 2020.
The House did, however, approve funding to bring astronauts to deep space, which could pave the way for commercial rockets to transport astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station.
A NASA spokeswoman told Fast Company the House’s “proposals would challenge NASA’s ability to ensure America’s preeminence in space exploration, technology, innovation, and scientific discovery.”
“In the coming months, NASA will continue to work with the Congress to move toward legislation that funds a balanced portfolio for NASA to spur economic growth here on Earth and maintain American preeminence in space exploration,” she continued.
Part of the reason for the bill’s restrictions, which approves more than $1 billion less than what the White House and Senate envisioned, is the lack of clear direction for a potential manned asteroid mission. Rep. Steven Palazzo, a Republican from Mississippi who heads the committee, said details for the asteroid mission, including its budget and technical requirements, weren’t clearly explained.
The Senate is meanwhile considering a bill authorizing $18.1 billion for NASA that would give the agency more flexibility in asteroid and Mars missions.