Wednesday, April 24, 2013

To Lasso An Asteroid

Where no man has gone before



Ten of fifteen years ago if you overheard people talking about plucking asteroids from space you might have said, "that sounds like a Sci-Fi movie plot." And you'd be right, because it was. In 1998, the movie Armageddon (starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck) was released, and was about intercepting a killer asteroid, preventing it from hitting Earth. 

Fast forward to April 2013. Earlier this month, NASA announced the “Asteroid Retrieval and Utilization Mission.” This mission would involve the capture of a small asteroid in deep space. The asteroid would then be towed back home and set into orbit near (or perhaps around) the moon for close study and perhaps to mine for its minerals. Through the process, NASA gains some of the experience needed to take the next steps in space exploration.

An initial $104 million is budgeted for the proposed project in 2014, but that will only come through if recent sequester cuts can be rolled back.

NASA teams will begin to plan this project in earnest later this year, including approaches to selecting an appropriate asteroid and specific plans for how to use robotic systems to capture and tow it to our moon.

Timeline for the mission:
  • Project planning begins in 2014 
  • Target selection in 2016
  • Asteroid capture in 2019
  • Early astronaut visits in 2021.



In the grand scheme, $100 million doesn't seem like too much to spend to gain knowledge and experience toward the next phase of space exploration. I'm hoping the funding comes through. How about you?



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