President Bush’s plan to send astronauts back to the Moon by 2020 and eventually on to Mars has been slowly crumbling — and now, Aviation Week & Space Technology reports that scientists, astronauts and former NASA managers are quietly meeting to propose an alternative. Skip the Moon, they say. Instead, send astronauts to land on an asteroid by 2025. It would be more interesting and affordable, says Aviation Week, and better practice for Mars missions. Aviation Week’s full story, by Craig Covault, is HERE. Covault reports that an invitation-only February meeting is being planned at Stanford University in California, so that a new plan can be put together for presentation to Mr. Bush’s successor. Quoting Aviation Week: "Participants in the upcoming meeting contend there’s little public enthusiasm for a return to the Moon, especially among youth, and that the Bush administration has laid out grandiose plans but has done little to provide the funding to realize them on a reasonable timescale…. "’It’s becoming painfully obvious that the Moon is not a stepping-stone for manned Mars operations but is instead a stumbling block,’ says Robert Farquhar, a veteran of planning and operating planetary and deep-space missions. "The prospect of challenging new manned missions to asteroids is drawing far more excitement among young people than a ‘return’ (as in going backward) to the Moon, says Lou Friedman, who heads The Planetary Society, the country’s largest space interest group. "The society is co-hosting the invitation-only VSE replanning session with Stanford. A lot of people going to the meeting believe ‘the Moon is so yesterday,’ says Friedman."
(NASA image: Computer graphic of NASA’s proposed Orion spacecraft with Altair lander in lunar orbit. Aviation Week quotes scientists proposing this mission be scrapped in favor of landings on asteroids.)