20 November 2011

NASA Administrator on Planetary Defense

When looking beyond near-Earth space and LEO, several missions and target destinations are viable. These include Earth's closest solar system neighbors: the Earth-Moon or Sun-Earth Lagrange points and cis-lunar space, NEAs, the Moon, the moons of Mars, and Mars. Each destination provides unique exploration and operational opportunities. Lunar circumnavigation and flights to Earth-Moon or Earth- Sun Lagrange points hold near-term promise as compelling test locations for the SLS, Orion MPCV, and other key emerging systems. Lagrange points are gravitationally stable regions created by the interaction of the gravity fields of any two large masses; an object placed at a Lagrange point will tend to stay in place for a long time. The Earth-Moon L1 and L2 Lagrange points could therefore be excellent "gateways" for a multitude of exciting exploration missions. The NEAs provide the opportunity to send humans beyond the solar orbit of Earth while holding compelling science and planetary defense knowledge-building potential. In addition to possible scientific prospects, missions to NEAs would afford astronauts the experience applicable to deeper-space missions that would eventually contribute to establishing a permanent human presence beyond Earth. There are a few asteroids which could be visited by the SLS and Orion MPCV in the timeframe under consideration. Additional NEA survey data will be required to identify and refine the catalog of potential targets.

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