The demise of the space shuttle has forced NASA to scale back its human activities in space. Without its own vehicles for launching astronauts into space, there is little the organisation can do but dream of better times ahead.
Its current plan is to build a vehicle called Orion that will have the capability to support a small crew for up to 21 days, long enough to get to the moon and back. NASA is also greedily eyeing other potential destinations, such as near Earth asteroids.
Today, Jack Burns at NASA's Lunar Science Institute in Moffet Field, California, and a few buddies have come up with another suggestion. These guys say that a moon landing is a risky goal so why not try an easier, intermediate mission first.
Their idea is to send an Orion spacecraft on a lunar fly-by past the moon to the L2 Lagrange point some 65,000 kilometres beyond. This is the place where gravitational forces exactly balance the spacecraft's centripetal force, allowing it to seemingly hover above the moon (although in reality it will orbit the L2 point).