First off, I just want to say that it does pay to have friends in high places. In my case, it is Jessica Cairns, an assistant for the State Department White House liaison.
Anyways, she gave me the heads up and permission to post here that Bush plans to announce a shift in the destination of the goal of the VSE from Mars to Io! The announcement is expected to come during a speech at NASA Headquarters next week after Bush returns from the NATO summit in Romania and his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the speech, Bush will outline plans for a series of unmanned probes to be launched toward Io over the next decade. The lunar missions will be refocused as test missions for the Io missions to come later. Particularly, rad-hard technologies and work in 1/6 gravity will be the focus.
Why the shift from Mars? After decades of unmanned Mars exploration, little evidence for life there has been found. The administration felt that if we had to send people to someplace lifeless, we might as well send people somewhere where "stuff blows up."
Already I see on the CNN website that the two remaining Democratic presidential candidates are attacking the plan. Barack Obama says that the country can ill afford to send manned missions to someplace where Illinois businessman Tony Rezko can't develop real estate. He also wanted to make it clear that he was the first to come out against this plan. Hillary Clinton related a story of her trip to Io in 1997, with her daughter Chelsea, rapper Vanilla Ice, and Bozo the Clown, where she nearly died of radiation sickness.
Anyways, details are pretty hard to come by at this point since the official announcement won't come until next week but I will certainly try to find out as much as I can and get back to you all.