We're going to Mars, y'all.
The new spending bill Congress passed earlier this month has earmarked millions for a space habitat module that astronauts would call home during a mission to Mars in the 2030s. Congress is calling for NASA to design the habitat by 2018.
Congress set aside $350 million for NASA for "exploration research and development," and of that figure, the Mars habitat is supposed to account for $55 million.
It's the first real ticking-clock demand since Congress approved NASA for a $1.6 billion budget raise for fiscal year 2016, an early step toward launching a crewed mission to deep space.
What's more, even though NASA finally has the scratch to throw money at research, it'll have to move pretty damn fast: The bill requires a status update by June 15, 2016 — 180 days after the bill passed.
Fortunately, through what NASA is calling the Next Space Technologies for Explorations Partnerships, there are already contractors on the case. Bigelow Aerospace, creators of several inflatable habitats, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and others were awarded contracts for up to $1 million each to see if they can put together a feasible habitat for astronauts jetting into space.
But exploring and settling new planets is a far more time-consuming endeavor than some other initiatives in the spending bill, like, say, increased government surveillance. Fingers crossed that NASA, and its contractors, can make it happen by summer.