Now that President Barack Obama is officially in the driver's seat until January 2017, NASA may be gearing up to send human beings back to the moon. According to space experts, plans to send astronauts back into lunar orbit have probably already been cleared by the Obama administration, but were kept under wraps in case Obama's re-election bid failed. Here's what you should know:
Why wait till after the election?
Defeated GOP candidate Mitt Romney had pledged to reassess — and possibly revise — NASA's strategy and missions. So it wouldn't make much sense to unveil a huge, years-long initiative in the months leading up to Election Day if Romney would have changed course. But now that the election is out of the way, some experts have a hunch that the the space agency is on the verge of making a huge announcement. For instance, space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University, tells Space.com that NASA has "been holding off announcing [plans] until after the election."
But why the moon?
It would serve as a stepping stone, mostly. The space agency has long been considering a floating space base on the dark side of the moon, in a spot called Earth-Moon Libration Point 2 (L2 for short). This libration point is essentially a spot where the gravitational pull of two objects (in this case, Earth and the Moon) balance each other out, allowing spacecraft to park there. Two years ago, President Obama "directed NASA to work toward sending astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025, then on to the vicinity of Mars by the mid-2030s," says Mike Wall at Space.com. L2 would bolster humanity's presence in space and also serve as a stepping stone for farther-flung missions to previously unexplored corners of the universe.
Why asteroids, though?
Asteroids could harbor valuable rocks and minerals for space explorers to harvest, and further prepare NASA and an impending trip to Mars.
How would we get humans to the asteroids?
NASA is currently working on more powerful next-generation spacecraft, including a massive rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) and an astronaut harboring capsule called Orion. The agency's goal is have have a manned SLS mission to L2 by the year 2021. NASA, to its credit, hasn't exactly played it coy about an impending moon mission. Our plans for a base in lunar orbit and future asteroid mission are sound, NASA deputy chief Lori Garver said at a conference in September. "Let me say that again: We're going back to the moon."