NASA's 2015 budget plan maintains Mars landing plans

Budget proposal would also funds efforts for NASA to regain ability to send astronauts to space station

NASA's $17.5 billion proposed fiscal 2015 budget would maintain the U.S. space agency's plan to send humans to Mars by the 2030s, to study near-Earth asteroids and to send astronauts to the International Space Station.

"Through NASA's work at all of our centers, our nation is recognized for scientific and technological leadership and knowledge-sharing that improves lives all around the world," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Tuesday.

The White House proposal for NASA is 1% lower than the final fiscal 2014 budget budget, and about $600 million more than it received in 2013.

Nonetheless, the proposed 2015 proposed budget would keep NASA on the path it's been on for a few years, preparing to send humans to live, explore and work on Mars by the 2030s.

Bolden noted that NASA hit several milestones on that path this year.

For instance, it oversaw two missions by private commercial companies - SpaceX and Orbital Sciences -- to resupply the space station. NASA also pushed to prepare the Orion space capsule for its first test flight later this year. The capsule is to one day carry humans into deep space.

"This budget ensures that the United States will remain the world's leader in space exploration and scientific discovery for years to come," said Bolden. "The budget supports the administration's commitment that NASA be a catalyst for the growth of a vibrant American commercial space industry, and keeps us on target to launch American astronauts from right here in the U.S.A. by 2017, ending our reliance on others to get into space and freeing us up to carry out even more ambitious missions beyond low-Earth orbit."

Regaining the ability to send astronauts to the space station would mark a major milestone for NASA.

After NASA retired its fleet of aging space shuttles in the summer of 2011, the agency has been forced to rely on Russian partners to keep the orbiter supplied with astronauts, food, spare parts and science experiments.

Bolden pointed out today that NASA hopes to have its commercial partners ferrying astronauts, as well as supplies, to the space station by 2017, lessening its reliance on foreign government agencies.

"We are committed to the International Space Station, and the latest extension guarantees we'll have this unique orbiting outpost for at least another decade," Bolden said. "This means an expanded market for private space companies, more ground-breaking research and science discovery in microgravity -- and additional opportunities to live, work and learn in space over longer and longer periods of time."

The federal government's 2015 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

The budget calls for spending $133 million to continue preparing to deflect a nearby asteroid into Earth's orbit and then send astronauts to study it by 2025.

The 2015 budget plan would also fund work on the James Webb Space Telescope, now scheduled for launch in 2018 as a successor to Hubble and Kepler. The budget would also continue funding development of a heavy-lift rocket to launch spacecraft into deep space.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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