U.S. President Donald Trump has signed into law a bill to increase the budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), maintain the agency’s earth science program, and add human exploration of Mars as a goal.
The new law increases NASA’s budget for 2018 by $19.5 billion.
Trump said the law will reinforce NASA’s core mission of human space exploration while continuing to transition activities to private aerospace companies. “I hope they will pay us a lot of money,” Trump said in an Oval Office signing ceremony attended by a bi-partisan group of lawmakers.
The new law also directs the agency to manage programs to help get humans to other destinations.
A manned mission to Mars had been widely viewed as NASA’s next great challenge. The agency is expected to develop new technology to achieve the mission by relying heavily on private aviation companies.
SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, is scheduled to launch an unmanned spaceship to Mars as soon as 2018.