If you had to choose the subject of NASA's attention over the next decade, what would you pick? Would you want to push the space agency to go back to the moon? Would you want it to devote its budget toward a human mission to Mars?
The Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, a panel ordered to chart the future of the U.S. space program, is trying to narrow those possibilities. So far, the group has come up with several ideas for how NASA should focus its resources (PDF).
For starters, one option the panel has suggested would see NASA focus on maintaining the International Space Station through 2020, rather than shuttering its ISS operations at the end of 2015, as planned. Another option is to get astronauts back to the moon for the first time since the Apollo program.
Another choice calls for astronauts to explore deep space, eventually traveling to Mars' moons. The panel also crafted an option that would see NASA maintain extended stays on Earth's moon. It would enable astronauts to travel to different areas of the lunar landscape, rather than stick to one location.
But perhaps the most compelling option the panel made public is an astronaut-attended trip to Mars. It said that if all of NASA's focus and government funding is allocated to going to Mars, it might be possible.
Budget costs are an obvious concern and a key determining factor in what plan NASA will follow, going forward. Panel member Norman Augustine, the former chief executive of Lockheed Martin, told The New York Times that none of the options would feature "an exorbitant price tag."
That should make legislators happy. But that alone won't determine NASA's future.… Read more