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NASA launches new space tech and exploration division

As part of President Obama's bid to further invest in space innovation, the U.S. agency creates the Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Astronaut Eugene Cernan on the moon in 1972.
NASA/Harrison H. Schmitt

NASA has suffered budget cuts and freezes the past several years, but apparently things are looking up for the U.S. space agency. Today, NASA announced that it was creating a new organizational division geared toward investing in space technology, equipment, and exploration.

"A robust technology development program is vital to reaching new heights in space -- and sending American astronauts to new destinations like an asteroid and Mars," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "A top priority of NASA is to invest in cross-cutting, transformational technologies. We focus on collaboration with industry and academia that advances our nation's space exploration and science goals while maintaining America's competitive edge in the new innovation economy."

The Space Technology Mission Directorate was inspired out of President Obama's 2013 federal budget bid that asked for investment in "a broad spectrum of space and aviation technology research grants and demonstrations of high-priority technologies, from laser space communications to unmanned aerial systems to in-space transportation."

In 2010, NASA's post-Columbia moon program came to an end and the development and operation of new rockets and capsules shifted from the government to private industry. In 2011, NASA was faced with further uncertainty as the Obama administration froze federal funding to 2010 levels for the following five years.

But, in 2012, things started to look up as it was revealed that the Obama administration approved new mission plans that could involve parking a spacecraft near the moon. Apparently, NASA has been looking into the possibility a new manned moon mission with the purpose of creating a manned outpost beyond the far side of moon and eventually visiting an asteroid in 2025.

It's unclear how much money NASA wants to put into the Space Technology Mission Directorate. It's also not yet known how much of the $699 million Obama asked for in his 2013 federal budget request will get passed by Congress.