Yes, that is an unusual headline but - when it comes to where the US government spends its money, these are strange times! (Did you click on the picture just to see what that robot is about? Click here to learn more.)
NASA has seen its funding reduced over several years. With the elimination of the space shuttle program and the increasing dependency on commercial space companies to resupply the space station, that might seem normal. However, NASA is more than just the agency that supports the space station. NASA is the United States' lead researcher of all things space-related (and much more). That means research on Mars, satellites that explore our galaxy and beyond, astrophysics and - most importantly - research on our own cozy little planet earth. So even though part of NASA's mission has changed, NASA funding is more important than ever. So it has been sad to see the funding be such a low priority. In fact, at the time of the Apollo program, NASA's budget was 4.5% of the entire federal budget! Today, it is less than 0.5%.
So it was very exciting yesterday when the Senate's 2016 spending bill included $19.3 billion for NASA. That was $756 million more than the agency requested (and $1 billion more than what had been in the previous budget recommendation). It's $1.27 billion more than they received in 2015! The big vote is today! One of the big reasons for the additional funding is Russia. Our two countries are in a bit of a tense time right now and - since the US does not currently have a way to put astronauts into space (and onto the International Space Station) - it means that we have to pay Russia for every seat on the end of a rocket. Today, that seat costs $75 million! In 2018, it is set to cost $82 million. That's a lot of money to pay to someone with whom you have a disagreement. Either way, it means more money for NASA to reduce its dependence on Russia - either through Boeing or SpaceX or through NASA's own new Space Launch System (SLS).
This is all great news for NASA - and for STEM! That money - and a renewed recognition of the importance of space science - means a greater emphasis on the science and engineering that America needs in order to continue to innovate. Today's NASA developments are tomorrow's commercial developments in new materials, electronics, energy sources and much more. A stronger space program also helps to inspire today's kids to aim for the stars!