Friday, July 31, 2009
Good! This is a subject I write about quite a bit. You can also read it in the New York Times here. The basic idea is that NASA extend human missions to other parts of the inner Solar System without necessarily needing to land on the Moon or Mars, which requires quite a bit of extra funding for the propulsion necessary for the trip back. Asteroids and small moons are small enough that landing is more the equivalent of a docking, so landing and exploring one is also quite easy.
One mission I would like to see would be a Venus flyby. Though there isn't all that much that can be seen from orbit, it would still be the easiest planet for humans to fly by, and considering its status as Earth's sister planet it would also be psychologically interesting. Not to mention the fact that the cloudtops of Venus can be colonized and that might bring the subject to the fore where it belongs.
However, the easiest mission in the meantime would probably be a simple landing on an asteroid as it approaches the Earth, as that would only take a few weeks and would be a quick return to Earth as well. None of these ideas are particularly new (that Venus flyby idea was originally proposed for the 1970s), but if budget realities result in NASA deciding to go with flyby missions in new locations instead of colonization of areas like the Moon, then perhaps it could be beneficial in the end. It's been a long time since humanity has sent people to a completely new destination.