Space Shuttle program was put on mothballs, effectively closing the book on an era of manned space travel. While it was sad to see it go, it was time. The Shuttle was an aging piece of equipment that was long over due for a replacement. The problem is, with an ongoing economic crisis causing budget cuts, NASA doesn't have a new system ready to go, and it will be years before they are ready to launch the Shuttle's replacement.
That hasn't stopped them from preparing for the future of space exploration however. Earlier today, NASA released The Global Exploration Roadmap, a document that lays out the agency's plans for the next 25 years of operations.
The roadmap, which is actually in it's first draft, was put together by the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, which includes not only NASA, but space programs from China, Russia, Europe, and more. That group sees a greater need for cooperation in moving forward with space exploration and is putting down the groundwork for both manned and robotic missions across the solar system.
The 38-page document sees two potential major missions in the future. A return to the moon or a visit to nearby astroids, both of which would be stepping stones for going to Mars. Each will require a grand commitment, and both have exciting possibilities for manned space travel, although they are, at a bare minimum, a decade away.
For fans of space travel, who have been wonder where we go next, this is an interesting read. Clearly the push is to now move away from Earth orbit and go further out into space. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome first, but it is interesting to not only see a plan to get there, but one that involves the cooperation of a number of nations and independent entities. This gives me hope for a future for man in space, and it lays out some very important reasons for why we should be headed in that direction.