"Whatever the truth, I hope that Nasa is aiming big, because its current ambitions are - by its own scientists admissions - somewhat lacking. Although we now have the capability to return humans to the Moon, and travel beyond with manned missions to Mars, the world's leading space-faring nation has another destination in its sights: an asteroid. A small lump of rock."
"Congress was all for ditching the moon and Mars plans but decided to keep building the shiny new rocket (maintaining employment in many of their constituent districts). The Space Launch System, which is scheduled to be ready for human crews in 2019, will be the most powerful rocket ever built, capable of bringing astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit, where the space station sits, for the first time since the Apollo days. This puts NASA in a conundrum. "Once you're out there, then what do you do?" said astronomer Jack Burns from the University of Colorado. Within a decade, we may be able to get people in the vicinity of the moon but "there's not enough money in the budget to build a human lander."
A glimpse at a gateway, Space Review
"This is a multi-center team that's been working on trying to figure out what the agency's going to be doing next," [Harold White] said in a presentation that was part of a panel session on advanced concepts at the conference. "In principle, this is an incremental approach to human space exploration. We're trying to take small steps and use as much of the stuff that we have in hand, and incorporate advanced technologies where appropriate to close the architecture."
"At one point, Bolden teared up and said that "Mars is the Goal". Bolden claimed that he was intent upon going to the White House, "pounding his shoe on the table", and demanding a commitment from President Obama to direct NASA to send humans to Mars. Bolden said that he needs that commitment to allow him to decide what to do (not do) with regard to extending the ISS."
Keith's note: The President directed NASA to send humans to an asteroid and eventually (in the 2030's) to Mars. But with talk of L2 or L1 bases, Moon missions, etc. it would seem that some parts of the agency have engaged in mission creep beyond what the White House directed them to do. Then again, the President did say "Mars in the 2030s" and planning for that has to start sooner or later. Regardless of what destination(s) that different parts of NASA think they are aiming for, there is no money for the payloads needed to accomplish any of the missions. With Thanksgiving looming, so is NASA's "passback" on the FY 2014 budget to OMB. Word has it that there will be some of Bolden's Mars shoe pounding included in NASA's budget response. Stay tuned.