We wish we had better news to report, but the official timetable for that next "small step for Man" isn't all that timely. Our species has fallen depressingly short of the star-hopping future we were promised in the post-Apollo orgy of interplanetary sci-fi — and that was all before the global economic train wreck.
Still, the next few decades aren't entirely without promise. Two trends are in our favor: 1) space exploration is becoming an increasingly international sport — more competition will breed more results — and 2) the advent of a commercial space industry will shepherd a nimbler, more efficient approach to exploration.
To that end, we present some of the projects that hold the most promise for Humanity's Big Move into the final frontier. While plenty of cool scientific toys will be flung out into the cosmos in the coming years, for this piece we're concentrating on the missions and projects that will directly lead to getting our species' collective butt back into the cosmos.
Earth is so yesterday.