Tuesday, May 11, 2010
shows the L2 Lagrangian point respective to the Earth and the Sun. The Lagrangian point this article talks about is L1 on the other side, but since the distance is the same I chose this image to show the distance compared to that from the Earth to the Moon.
So, the article: since NASA's plans for human missions is still in a state of flux, a few ideas besides the originally stated asteroid then Mars mission are being batted around, and one of them (before an asteroid mission) is to send astronauts on a test mission that involves flying by the Moon, to the L1 Lagrangian Point (four times farther away than the Moon), and then back. Total mission time: a few weeks. This would be the easiest deep space mission possible as it simply involves leaving the Earth, hanging out and coming back, but it would set a new record for distance from the Earth, and the Moon flyby IMO would be much more exciting than many would expect. As stated before, those under 50 don't even have a single memory of humans being on or even close to the Moon, so even having astronauts approach it would be something completely new.
And when all is said and done I expect us to settle the Moon first anyway, as White House plans come and go but the reality of a mere 3-day journey is permanent, and after re-establishing the ability to get beyond LEO, the US is going to take a look at the current situation, see other countries and private industry beginning to do things on the Moon, and conclude that it simply isn't the time for a three-year journey to Mars.
And if you're interested in a big discussion on Moon vs. Mars that began a few days ago, see here.