Hey NASA: Skip the moon, send humans to asteroids, Mars moons

As NASA readies the Ares 1-X test rocket, a commission of experts appointed by the president says hold everything. NASA should forget about going to the moon for now, and land humans on a nearby asteroid or comet, or one of the two moons of Mars, says the Augustine panel. The reason? It will take a whole lot less fuel to get humans back from such low-gravity destinations.

It makes sense. The moon? Been there, done that. Let's get some big honking rockets, maybe even bigger than the Saturn V, and head out into deep space. Meanwhile, the Augustine panel recommends extending the life of the shuttle for another year — until 2011 instead of putting it in mothballs on October 1, 2010 — and keeping the International Space Station aloft until 2020 instead of crashing it into the ocean in 2015.

Too bad this commission didn't exist when George W. Bush decided back in 2003 that our goal was to set up a base on the moon, and then head to Mars. Among the eight options presented by the commission, a moon landing would only be a training mission, a stepping stone to destinations beyond. A Mars mission would only happen in the distant future.

These new plans could work. Well, until another politician decides to change them.

Via USA Today (art courtesy Denise Watt, via Space Gizmo)