NASA's Plan to Capture a Wild Asteroid

I'm not sure how I missed this up until now, but included in NASA's 2014 budget is a plan to develop a robot space craft to locate, capture, and return with an entire asteroid which will then be placed in a stable orbit around the "Earth-Moon System" which I take to mean the orbit will be beyond that of our moon—I'm guessing for safety reasons since it would be a bit of a problem if NASA caused an asteroid to crash in a populated area.

My first reaction to hearing the news was, "wow, that's crazy," but the more I read about it the more I realized how wrong that reaction was. The mission will involve several new technologies, and is being used as both a precursor to our plan to put humans on Mars by the 2030's and as an opportunity to study an asteroid up close. Previous asteroid studies have been done by probes, but this one will involve humans riding up in the new Orion space capsule and studying the asteroid first-hand.

Artist's concept of the Solar-Electric Propulsion System
The asteroid capture mission a.k.a. the "Asteroid Initiative" will use a robotic probe at first, utilizing the new solar-electric propulsion system to grab the asteroid and place it in the desired orbit. Once that is accomplished, astronauts will utilize the Space Launch System NASA has developed and travel to the asteroid to perform tests and take samples.

Artist's concept of the asteroid capture in progress

The new orbit of the asteroid will make it readily available for future missions to visit, and the use of all of the technologies involved serves as an early field test for our missions to Mars, as well as the technology needed to protect the Earth from asteroid impacts.

As amazing as all of this is, the mission's existence has become controversial since it displaced plans for a NASA led return to the moon. Under President Obama's direction, the asteroid capture mission has become the priority, despite objections from certain members of congress. Representative Bill Posey of Florida has introduced legislation which would direct NASA to return to the moon by 2022, however, this puts him at odds with both the President of the United States and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who stated "NASA will not take the lead on a human lunar mission." He also said that if another nation mounts a lunar mission NASA will be happy to be a part of it, but that it had no actual plans of its own to return to the moon within Mr. Bolden's lifetime. Which side of the debate will win out is anyone's guess.

If you'd like to learn more about the asteroid capture mission I invite you to follow these links and watch the animated video below:

(Video by NASA via YouTube)


Popular Posts