Forty years after Apollo 17, the last mission to send astronauts to the lunar surface, the Moon still beckons the US space agency. EUGENE CERNAN/NASA


Duelling visions stall NASA

A US plan to send humans to explore an asteroid is losing momentum.

Eric Hand
12 December 2012

Once again, NASA’s human space-flight programme is looking for a destination. It happened in the early 1970s, after US astronauts had left the Moon for the last time; then in the 1990s, after the collapse of a costly vision of sending astronauts to Mars; and again in 2010, when US President Barack Obama abandoned a plan to return humans to the Moon because he did not consider it ambitious enough. He suggested visiting a near-Earth asteroid instead, but a report released on 5 December by the National Academies says that this plan, too, has misfired.

“There is no broad acceptance of the asteroid as the next principal destination for space flight, despite the fact that the president has indeed said so several times,” says Albert Carnesale, chairman of the committee behind the report and a former chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles. For its part, NASA — whether through inertia or out of practicality — seems unwilling to shift the focus of its human space-flight efforts away from the Moon.

Read more: Duelling visions stall NASA : Nature News & Comment.

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