In her speech at the AIAA Space 2012 conference Tuesday, NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver mentioned that NASA had just delivered to Congress a “comprehensive report outlining our destinations” for human exploration of the solar system. That report, formally titled “NASA Exploration Destinations, Goals, and International Collaboration”, is now available on NASA’s web site. However, for those who have been following NASA’s exploration plans, there’s not much, if anything, new in this ten-page document, as it reiterates plans for continued utilization of the ISS, a human mission to a near Earth asteroid in the mid-2020s and to the “Mars system” in the mid-2030s.
Curiously, a Wall Street Journal article played up a perceived interest in human lunar exploration. The report delivered to Congress, the Journal reported, “includes a section focusing on the scientific benefits of establishing a long-term human presence on the lunar surface.” Yet there is hardly any mention of the Moon in the 180-day report, including nothing on a lunar base. (The reporter may have been confusing the 180-day report with the earlier “Voyages” report, which does discuss the benefits of and requirements for human lunar exploration.)
The Journal article also claims that Garver said that “an unspecified mission to the moon is tentatively scheduled as early as 2017.” That is simply the first Orion/SLS mission, designated EM-1, which would send an uncrewed Orion around the Moon in 2017. EM-2, the first crewed Orion mission, would follow in 2021, also on a circumlunar trajectory. However, in a panel session Tuesday afternoon at the Space 2012 conference, NASA associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier said that NASA was looking at what other things could be done on those missions, such as visiting a Lagrange point. “We’re in the process of doing those trades to see what makes sense,” he said.