NASA to bag asteroid; send astronauts to visit

NASA to bag asteroid; send astronauts to visit

Summary: NASA's next big project will be to send robots to tow a nearby asteroid where astronauts will study the space rock.

TOPICS: Nasa / Space

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  • An image from the meteor strike in Chebarkul, Russia.
    (Image: CBS News)

    Asteroid mission

    The US has set its sights on NASA's next manned space mission. But where? Mars? Too far, that will come later. The moon? Been there, done that. An asteroid? You're correct.

    Plans are underway for a 2017 mission liftoff to send robots to an asteroid, wrap it in a bag, and then tow it into an Earth orbit near the moon. In 2021, astronauts will be launched to rendezvous with the asteroid and and test technology for mining, deflecting a potential threat, and planning future missions — such as a trip to Mars. Senator Bill Nelson (D Fla) released plans for the mission.

    The Obama administration wants to give NASA $100 million in 2014 to start it up. It hopes the cost will peak at $1 billion, although a recent study by the Kleck Institute (PDF) estimates a similar project to cost $2.6 billion. The recent recent near miss by asteroid 2012 DA14 and the meteor that landed in Russia, injuring about 1,200, helped speed up development of this mission.

    Why this project in the midst of budget cutbacks, the fiscal cliff, and today's financial conservatism?

    First, to save the world. There are millions of asteroids that orbit around the sun, but about a thousand are big enough to cause major damage — such as the extinction of dinosaurs. The path of an asteroid can usually be detected years in advance, and a very minute percentage ever collide with Earth. But some asteroids, like 2012 DA14, which actually passed through the Earth's atmosphere, have not been detected until it's almost too late. NASA's asteroid project looks at ways to deal with a potential asteroid collision, such as deflecting the rock harmlessly past Earth.

    Get rich quick. Perhaps the biggest reason to visit these space objects is the unlimited potential for valuable resources. Some asteroids are said to contain large amounts of water, which could be converted into rocket fuel for longer space missions, say, to Mars. Plus, it has been estimated that a single asteroid could contain more plutonium than has been mined in the history of Earth. Remember pet rocks? Imagine how much money could be made with asteroid rocks.

    How are they planning to do it, what do asteroids look like, and who else is planning missions to asteroids? Read on.

  • (Image: Rick Sternbach/Kepler Institute of Space Science)

    Asteroid plans

    Plans are to nab a 500-tonne, 7- to 10-meter-wide (25- to 33-foot-wide) asteroid.

  • (Image: NASA)

    Space Launch System

    This asteroid project will also be an opportunity to test out the next generation of space exploration equipment. Here's an image of what the 70-metric-tonne Space Launch System is expected to look like. The goal is to make this the most powerful rocket in history in order to launch astronauts, equipment, and satellites into space. The Exploration Flight Test-1 is set for 2014, and the project it is expected to be ready by 2017.

Topic: Nasa / Space

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  • From the article: "Moon? Been there, done that."

    Really? We have indeed been there. But, have we "done that"? Why not establish a manned base on the Moon before we humans go traipsing off into the rest of the solar system?

    I'm sure that there's much to learn about establishing and maintaining a permanent base on the surface of a planetary body and there's likely a boatload to learn about the Moon too. Seriously, have we already concluded that there aren't water and mineral sources on the Moon? Plus, it's relatively close should a rescue mission become necessary.

    Moon, first. Mars, second, or perhaps third if we really want to play with asteroids. And place the asteroid into the Moon's orbit and study it there.

    P.S. Also from the article:
    "it has been estimated that a single asteroid could contain more plutoni[u]m than has been mined in the history of Earth."

    Plutonium? We've got more Plutonium now than we know what to do with. Anyway, nobody mines plutonium on Earth. Plutonium gets created either by design or as a byproduct of [hopefully] controlled fission of enriched Uranium.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • I agree with you

      I am so disgusted with this administration. He has mentioned an asteroid before and got poor response. I guess nasa figures if this is the only way we can get money. Oh well.

      If we want fuel for a nuclear reactor you should be going Thorium
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  • seriously?

    So Nasa has plans to create a 'slingshot for asteroids'?
    I applaud the plans, because I love science ...

    But North-Korea may find these ideas a bit disconcerting. And the US may find it hard to tell other nations not to develop inter-continental weapons whilst playing ping-pong with really big rocks above their heads.
  • Stupid question

    Why is a U.S. Senator announcing future NASA projects? Isn't that the job of NASA itself?

    It makes perfect sense for Sen. Nelson to be a NASA booster, but that's as far as it should go.
    John L. Ries