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Trump signs bill authorizing NASA funding, Mars exploration

Authorizes $19.1 billlion in funding

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, after signing a bill to increase NASA's budget to $19.5 billion and directs the agency to focus human exploration of deep space and Mars.
President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, after signing a bill to increase NASA's budget to $19.5 billion and directs the agency to focus human exploration of deep space and Mars. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON –  President Donald Trump has signed into law a bill that adds exploration of Mars as a NASA goal.

The new law also authorizes $19.5 billion in space agency funding for the 2017 budget year, which starts Oct. 1. Trump recently sent Congress a budget proposal that authorizes $19.1 billion for the space agency next year, down slightly from the current year.

The new law amends current law to add human exploration of Mars as one of NASA's objectives. It also directs NASA to manage human space flight programs to help humans to explore Mars and other destinations.

The bill also authorizes funding for medical treatment for former astronauts and improvement for the International Space Station.

Trump signed the bill Tuesday in the Oval Office surrounded by astronauts and bill sponsors, including Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Both senators challenged Trump during the presidential campaign.

Rubio welcomed Trump's signing of the bill, according to a statement from the senator released after the signing Tuesday.

"This law will promote innovation, support NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion programs, improve collaboration between the agency and commercial space sector, and benefit thousands of workers across Florida, particularly at Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center," Rubio said. "Florida continues to play a leading role in our nation's space program, and I was proud to stand by President Trump's side as he signed our bill into law." ‎

When Trump invited Vice President Mike Pence to speak, Pence suggested that former astronaut and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., be allowed to say a few words.

"He's a Democrat. I wasn't going to let him speak," Trump quipped, to laughter. Nelson did say a few words, praising the bill for putting the agency on a "dual track" with commercial companies making roundtrips to the International Space Station and NASA continuing to explore the universe.