Space exploration doesn't just happen—it is made through the decisions of government, budgets, policy documents, and by individuals and industries. Space exploration is for all of us, but only by understanding the politics of space can we make it happen.
The President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, funding the U.S. government for the remainder of the fiscal year. NASA got a boost to $19.65 billion, and its Planetary Science Division saw a budget increase to $1.846 billion—its best budget in more than ten years.
Last week, the planetary science community lost Nathan Bridges, a leading scientist whose work studied how wind sculpts the surface of Mars. Nathan was a prolific scientist involved in many Mars exploration missions, a charter member of The Planetary Society, a friend, husband, and father.
NASA under a Trump Administration will be hard times for Earth Science, and human spaceflight to the Moon will likely get renewed focus. However, NASA won't go anywhere if massive cuts to spending are enacted as promised.
SpaceX's plans to colonize Mars differ considerably from NASA's Journey to Mars ambitions. But direct comparison is difficult. SpaceX is able to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with a bold new approach to humans in space. NASA has no such luxury, and must use existing pieces and people to make their goals a reality.
New scientific findings add to the evidence that Europa is spouting its liquid ocean into space. NASA has a mission to Europa in the works, but it wouldn't launch for at least a decade. Congress can make it faster, but it all depends on whether they can pass a budget this year.
Commerce, Justice, and Science—the House of Representatives’ subcommittee that oversees NASA spending—just released details on how they would fund the space agency in 2017. Overall, the news for the space program is very good.