Aviation Week reports that the International Space Exploration Coordination Group is currently meeting in Kyoto, Japan to help steer global strategy towards the next deep-space destination — a return trip to the Moon, or a visit to an asteroid.
Meeting Aug. 30 in Kyoto, Japan, the ISECG identified two “potential pathways” for human exploration into the Solar System — the “Moon next” approach started under the Constellation program and an “Asteroid next” plan that will follow President Barack Obama’s goal of exploring an asteroid or other near-Earth object as a stepping-stone to Mars.
The resulting “road map” will guide the way as NASA and its international partners in space exploration plan their individual programs, develop technology for exploration and use the International Space Station to prepare for human voyages beyond low Earth orbit. Agency representatives agreed to finish and release publicly a first draft of the map “during the next few weeks.”
According to MSNBC space analyst Alan Boyle:
One suggested path would send a deep-space habitat to an Earth-moon gravitational balance point known as L-1, then go to the moon as a tune-up for a Mars trip. Another scenario calls for reaching the lunar surface first, then going to an asteroid, then heading for Mars. A variant would focus on testing the deep-space habitat, then taking trips to the moon, to an asteroid, and finally to Mars. It's not yet clear how all these possibilities are wrapped up into the ISECG's "Asteroid Next" and "Moon Next" scenarios.
Boyle notes that "Gearing up for missions to Mars would likely require a significant boost in space spending," which places the decision in the hands of Congress, and we all know how that plays out these days.