Curiosity to Land at Gale Crater

"Mars is firmly in our sights. Curiosity not only will return a wealth of important science data, but it will serve as a precursor mission for human exploration to the Red Planet." -NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

The Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, is set to launch between November 25 and December 18, 2011. Its primary mission is to determine whether Mars is, or ever was, habitable. Curiosity will examine soil and rock samples to determine whether there is any sign of past or present microbial life. It will also try to determine the past and present extent of water on Mars.

Introduction to Curiosity

Curiosity is five times larger than any other rover sent to Mars. The new rover weighs 600 kg (2000 lbs) and carries more than ten times the amount of scientific equipment of previous rovers.

Mars Rover Curiosity, Mars Science Laboratory Mission - 24"x36" Poster
Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity

NASA Ordered to Send Astronauts to an Asteroid Within 15 Years

Reports from the Associated Press, the Daily Mail, and other media outlets claim that NASA was given a new objective. They were reportedly told by President Obama that they had to put astronauts on an asteroid within 15 years. They are to remain on that asteroid for an as of yet unspecified period of time.

The idea is that landing and living on an asteroid will take much of the same technology as landing and maintaining a permanent presence on Mars. So why don't we just go to Mars?

The asteroids are closer than Mars, so it would take less energy and fuel to get there. This project is considered a stepping stone in America's goal of setting man on Mars by 2035.

In order to get to the asteroid it is necessary to send a few unmanned craft carrying supplies to the asteroid. It would be improbable to send everything with the manned ship. The necessary devices are numerous and very similar to those detailed by Robert Zubrin,  President of Mars Society and the aerospace research and development firm Pioneer Astronautics, in his explanation of how we could easily send a man to Mars within a decade. These are detailed in an article about the ability for Manned Exploration of Mars Within a Decade and his book (below):
The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must

One of the goals of sending astronauts to an asteroid is to learn how to change its orbit. By experimenting on an asteroid that is not a danger to Earth, humanity will be better prepared to deal with an asteroid that is set to impact Earth.