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NASA Gets An Unexpected Budget Increase—Yes, You Read That Right

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nasacrewWhat’s the first thing you think of when someone says NASA? Maybe the Apollo missions, maybe the ISS, maybe the Challenger disaster. Whatever it is, I bet one thing no one thinks of anymore is piles and piles of money. NASA is perennially underfunded to the extent that its spokespeople have said its meager budget puts people at risk for asteroid hits, may jeopardize future Mars missions, and generally spells nothing good for the future of America’s space program. So far, 2014 has been a decent year for the space agency, though, with the successful test flight of the Orion spacecraft and the renewal of seven planetary missions. But 2014—and beyond—just got a whole lot better. When the House of Representatives passed the “CRomnibus” bill last week, thankfully averting another government shutdown, it actually gave NASA more than it asked for, raising the agency’s budget by 2% for next year.

The Senate passed the bill over the weekend, and now all President Obama has to do is sign it. Considering that the bill allocates $550 million more for NASA than Obama requested for 2015 (and that a bunch of other hitches were ironed out over the past week), there’s no reason to think he won’t . What that means is NASA is poised to receive just over $18 billion total next year, which is its highest level of funding in a while—$364 million more than they received last year.

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NASA Renews Seven Planetary Missions

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Mars Odyssey

Mars Odyssey Orbiter

Here’s an all to rare thing: a post to celebrate the extension of seven planetary missions. I’m exercising cautious optimism regarding NASA, but I’m happy to hear that some of the agency’s most famous (and most awesome) programs won’t be getting the axe any time soon.

The space agency just finished the 2014 senior review of its currently operating planetary science missions and decided not to cancel any of them. Color me surprised—and delighted. Still, NASA’s Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green did say that some of the missions will have to operate “leaner and meaner” as they deal with some cutbacks. A report of their findings will be released sometime this week.

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NASA Funds Ten Space Tech Proposals

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asteroid capture

asteroid capture

It’s good to see that even though NASA isn’t swimming (or flying) in dough, it’s still able to fund space enterprises. NASA’s Space Technology Research Grants Program, which was founded with monies requested and allocated by Obama in 2011, recently awarded $250,000 grants to ten university projects in an attempt to jumpstart the development of technologies necessary for long-term spaceflights and other missions.

Here are the ten grant award winners and descriptions of their projects:

Johns Hopkins University proposes a plan for using on-board image analysis to detect, track, and identify asteroids, which could help track asteroids that might pose a threat to earth, or be potential candidates for mining. The University of Colorado, Boulder is also interested in asteroids and is working on a comprehensive model that demonstrates the effects of techniques used to mitigate potentially hazardous asteroids.