By Dan Satherley
NASA is planning to send astronauts to the far side of the Moon and beyond now that Barack Obama has won re-election, according to reports.
Website Space.com quotes a space policy expert, who says the White House has already cleared the plans, but was keeping them under wraps until after the November 6 election.
John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University, says if Republican challenger Mitt Romney had been elected, NASA's plans would have been scaled back, if not cancelled, due to funding restrictions or cuts.
"NASA has been evolving its thinking, and its latest charts have inserted a new element of cislunar/lunar gateway/Earth-moon L2 sort of stuff into the plan," says Prof Logsdon.
"They've been holding off announcing that until after the election."
'L2' refers to what's known as a lagrange point, which is a spot in space where the gravitational pull of two bodies (in this case, the Sun and the Earth) is balanced with the centrifugal force of an object in orbit, allowing spacecraft to 'park' in place, saving time and money on future trips. The 'L2' point NASA wants to investigate lies about 1,500,000km further away from the Sun than the Earth.
Obama told NASA in 2010 to prepare to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, with test flights of its new Space Launch System rocket possible in 2017 and the first manned flights to the 'L2' point in 2021.
"We just recently delivered a comprehensive report to Congress outlining our destinations, which makes clear that SLS will go way beyond low-Earth orbit to explore the expansive space around the Earth-moon system, near-Earth asteroids, the moon, and ultimately, Mars," NASA deputy chief Lori Garver said in September.
"Let me say that again: We're going back to the moon, attempting a first-ever mission to send humans to an asteroid and actively developing a plan to take Americans to Mars."