$100 Million for Asteroid-Capture Mission

NASA is planning for a robotic spaceship to lasso a small asteroid and park it near the moon for astronauts to explore…

NASA will likely get $100 million next year to jump-start an audacious program to drag an asteroid into orbit around the moon for research and exploration purposes, U.S.

NASA is working on plans to robotically capture and tow a small asteroid back to Earth’s vicinity by the end of the decade, setting asteroidthe stage for manned visits to learn more about the threat asteroids pose, the resources they represent and to help perfect the technology needed for eventual flights to Mars.

The robotic ship would capture the 500-ton 25-foot asteroid in 2019. Then using an Orion space capsule, now being developed, a crew of about four astronauts would nuzzle up next to the rock in 2021 for spacewalking exploration, according to a government document obtained by The Associated Press.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said the plan would speed up by four years the existing mission to land astronauts on an asteroid by bringing the space rock closer to Earth.

“This is part of what will be a much broader program,” Sen. Bill Nelson “The plan combines the science of mining an asteroid, along with developing ways to deflect one, along with providing a place to develop ways we can go to Mars.”

The $100 million will probably be part of President Barack Obama’s federal budget request for 2014. The money is intended to get the ball rolling on the asteroid-retrieval project, which also aims to send astronauts out to the captured space rock in 2021.
NASA will need much more than this initial $100 million to make the asteroid-retrieval mission happen. The Keck study estimated that it would cost about $2.6 billion to drag a 500-ton space rock back near the moon.

While there are thousands of asteroids that size out there, finding the right one that comes by Earth at just the right time to be captured will not be easy, said Donald Yeomans, who heads NASA’s Near Earth Object program that monitors close-by asteroids. He said once a suitable rock is found it would be captured with the space equivalent of “a baggie with a drawstring. You bag it. You attach the solar propulsion module to de-spin it and bring it back to where you want it.”

“I hope it goes forward,” “Asteroids are a very, very interesting area,” “They’re a hell of a resource, and I think the potential for long-term resource development for use in space is going to be a very big thing. And this is sort of step one. It’s a baby step in a way, but it should be very interesting.” said Rusty Schweickart, a former Apollo astronaut who helped found the B612 Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to building and launching a privately funded space telescope to search for threatening asteroids.

As for the threat asteroids pose to Earth, Schweickart said “I don’t want people to spend their nights worrying about getting hit by asteroids. But I do want them to encourage their political leaders to invest in the insurance, which will allow us to prevent it from happening.”

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