Today I found a very interesting video of a presentation given earlier this year by Jeff Greason, President of XCOR Aerospace.
It is quite an eye opening presentation, and seems to have been very well received. Essentially the point he makes in that NASA lacks long terms goals and a strategy when it comes to human space flight.
Settlement is the goal.
The points that he makes are very compelling and the solutions clear and well defined. Ultimately he argues NASA should be looking to colonise the planets, this should be the long term goal or else what's the point of humans going into space at all? We should go and we should stay. His strategy for this is a careful and relatively simple plan that involves using staging posts that act as stepping stones and in addition aid later steps by producing fuel.
Those stepping stones are:
A Low Earth Orbit fuel station - create a market for fuel in orbit, make it profitable for a company to keep it stocked and allow other companies to use it.
A Moon station that produces fuel on the Luna surface and supplies the LEO station.
A L1 station also stocked from the Luna plant.
A manned Phobos station that also produces fuel and investigates the Martian surface.
Finally, once these stepping stones are in place a human Mars surface mission seems much more within grasp as there are stopping posts and fuel available on route which vastly reduces cost.
I think that the whole strategy is excellent, and something well worth considering for NASA. The video is well worth watching if you have 45 minutes to spare.