I'm always skeptical when I hear NASA talking about how they're "moving forward" with this project or that. They are a government agency plagued with bureaucracy (as most are), on-schedule with promises but late and over-budget with delivery. Don't get me wrong, they have done great things in the past and have come up with an occasional wonder in the present. But NASA's manned spaceflight program has been more than a little anemic and frustrating for as long as I can remember. The last moon landing happened when I was three, and nothing very exciting (besides two horrible disasters) has happened since.
Maybe that's changing. Discovery Channel today reports that NASA is expiditing the design competition for the new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV); they're looking to award the contract in 2006 as opposed to 2008, which should have the actual spacecraft flying by 2012 or so. Not too bad if they follow through.
Early Lockheed-Martin CEV Design
For those who want the quick-and-dirty explanation: The new CEV will serve as a base model for at least three new spacecraft. One design will ferry crews to and from the International Space Station. Another will return Americans (and multinational crews sooner or later, one presumes) to the moon between 2015 and 2020. And yet another will eventually bring people to Mars ... though I imagine that craft will be very different from the other two.
Geek stuff for sure. But cool geek stuff.