With a new Congress now in charge, NASA is stuck in a political limbo, waiting for the funding needed to carry out a new objective approved by the last Congress.

Lawmakers in October passed – and President Obama signed – a NASA authorization bill that gave America's space agency the go-ahead to abandon its previous moon-oriented human spaceflight program and take aim at new targets: visiting an asteroid and Mars. That bill called for NASA to receive $19 billion in 2011 – a boost from the 2010 NASA budget of $18.3 billion.

But that promised funding was not appropriated, since the outgoing lawmakers, along with the president, could not agree on a federal budget. Instead they enacted a continuing resolution – a kind of placeholder law until a full budget can be agreed upon – that froze the federal government, including NASA, at 2010 spending levels through March 4.