In an uncharacteristic burst of productivity, the United States Congress has passed a law that provides a boost to NASA scientists working hard to make space a more habitable place for humans. Along with a desperately needed transportation funding bill, the United States Congress wrapped up its legislative year by passing an omnibus budget bill signed into law by President Obama that requires NASA to devote at least $55 million out of its $350 million Exploration Research and Development funds to produce “a prototype deep space habitation module” by 2018.

Transhab, Transhab NASA, NASA

The law dictates that NASA is to begin submitting reports on its progress within 180 days of the bill’s signing. The project is still in its early brainstorming phase. In mid-December, International Space Station director at NASA Headquarters Sam Scimemi stated he was unaware of any specific plans. “It’s much too early for that,” Scimemi said. “As soon as I put a picture up there, somebody is going to assume what the configuration is.” Over the past several months, NASA has been promoting the development of a habitable living module that can be tested in space in the 2020s. Schimei imagines the living module is one key technology that will pave the way for an eventual manned mission to Mars.

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NASA collaborates with several contracted companies, such as Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin, to complete their ambitious projects. After years of anti-science rhetoric and policy from Congress, NASA and its partners are pleased with the clear direction provided by Washington. “We’re thrilled that Congress took the lead,” says Mike Gold, director of D.C. operations and business growth for Bigelow Aerospace. “It is the missing piece of the human space exploration puzzle.” NASA has still not decided if it will contract the project to an external partner or if it will keep the challenge all to itself. “I want to build it,” says Schimei.

Via Space News

Images via NASA