Washington's partisan divide is spreading all the way to space.
President Obama and many Republicans agree that NASA should pursue a mission to Mars. What they can't agree on, however, is the best route to get there.
Specifically, the parties are divided over which space rock to use for a waypoint on the Mars mission.
Some Republicans — most famously Newt Gingrich but also a large passel of House lawmakers — see the moon as the most logical waypoint. A lunar base, they say, would allow NASA to test landing technologies and surface operations. It would also allow astronauts to launch humankind's first attempts to utilize extra-Earth resources, including extracting water from the moon's dust.
Obama and NASA's current leadership, however, favor a further foray into the final frontier: capturing, redirecting, and exploring an asteroid. To do so, they want the space agency to invest in solar propulsion engines, technology that is also a prerequisite for a long-distance Mars mission. While the Mars astronauts themselves will travel on a fuel-powered ship, the resupply craft they'll meet along the way will use the slower but more cost-effective solar power.
The battle between the competing visions plays out in annual battles over NASA's budget, where the Obama administration requests funding for its goals, and Republicans — particularly in the GOP-controlled House — push back. And the competition is made all the more intense as the funding pool shrinks: NASA's funding has diminished by more than a billion dollars since 2010 — more than 7 percent of a budget that then totaled $18.7 billion.