The NASA budget that went to Capitol Hill yesterday dashed any plans to initiate new Mars exploration missions in the next few years, but amid the belt-tightening SPACE reports that NASA is exploring another idea that, while much closer to home, is still quite ambitious--the building of a manned waypoint (read: space station) at the Lagrangian point EML-2 on the far side of the moon. This international space station (but we’ll have to think of a better name) would serve as a jumping off place for new science missions as well as a gateway to other destinations like asteroids, Martian moons, and--eventually--Mars.
NASA, its Mars ambitions on hold for now, is viewing such a waypoint as a near-term exploration asset with the capacity to deliver new science and technologies within the decade. It would incorporate NASA’s core next-gen capabilities--the planned heavy lift rocket known as the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle--as well as technologies contributed by international partners.
And in the near-term, it could put humans further out into space than they’ve ever been--the kind of superlative mission the agency as lacked since the glory days of the Apollo Program.
According to a recent memo, NASA is fielding a team charged with developing a plan for exploring Earth-moon libration point 2 (Earth-moon libration point is equivalent to a Lagrange point, but specific to the Earth and moon), a point in space where the pull of two bodies roughly balance out, making it possible to more or less “park” a spacecraft there.