NASA are researching a radical new radiation shielding technology for their spaceships, they must be wanting this for a manned mission to Mars, or going back to the moon. The International Space Station uses water as a shield against radiation and it is also used in the pools where spent nuclear fuel rods are stored. So it is the best thing to use to protect against radiation, but it is very heavy and therefore lifting a craft into orbit using this technology would be extremely demanding on the chemical rockets we have now and it would make more sense to build a Mars spaceship in orbit and then once it is completed you set off to your destination. The current economic situation does not lend itself to spending huge amounts of money launching into orbit when we are fighting in pointless wars which have costed billions of dollars fighting against Al Queda when they possibly do not even exist. And now they are starting a war in Libya which will cost even more money and kill many innocent civilians that are not even combatants. But there is the new Orion craft that has been unveiled that is the planned moonshot vehicle to replace the ageing space shuttle. This craft and the companion Ares heavy lift rocket were once planned as a possible contender for reaching the moon but now under Barak Obamas 2011 budget it will not fly.
This is a disturbing lack of vision from the president who cares more about war than peace. The original project Orion was a nuclear powered craft capable of interstellar flight, but that would not be allowed these days after Chernobyl and the crisis in Japan. The publics fear of nuclear energy and fallout would mean the project would face too much opposition. Using the craft in space would be safer than launching from land, then the craft could be built in space and could be very large, as launching from 300km up would take far less power. This proposal is rather like the Daedalus project which uses a nuclear powered craft to travel to another star. But that would be an unmanned craft sent to report back on the conditions at Barnards star which is 5.9 light years away. The fuel was to be a deuterium/helium-3 mix that had to be mined from the atmosphere of Jupiter using floating mining facilities. That is quite ambitious and would not be realized in reality for decades the way we are going. There was a British proposal for an actual flying saucer but that required technology that does not exist yet.