The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has initiated its Asteroid Redirect Mission, an important first step in sending astronauts on trips to Mars in the future.
The benefits of landing on an asteroid as it lies in its natural orbit is that there are no requirements for specialized landing craft.Richard Binzel
The project, which has spent 18 months in the planning phases, involves towing an asteroid into lunar orbit to serve as a training platform for NASA astronauts and space probes. In one ARM proposal, a robotic spacecraft will seek out an asteroid of sufficient size before bringing it in to a stable orbit around the satellite; in the other an inflatable capture system could be deployed to secure the chunk of space rock.
The new plan has the seal of approval from US President Barack Obama, who has been an ally for the space agency and its plans to push the envelope on space exploration. The mission would be an excellent stepping stone to prepare for a Mars mission, according to most scientists.
However, there are detractors to the plan, including MIT’s Richard Binzel. The professor says that it might be a better use of NASA funding would be to identify and then settle on a series of asteroids that float in the space between Earth and Mars, using each asteroid as a literal stepping stone.
The benefits of landing on an asteroid as it lies in its natural orbit is that there are no requirements for specialized landing craft, Binzel says. Simply matching the asteroid’s relative speed as it hurtles through space would enable spacecraft to rendezvous with it, enabling NASA to hop, skip and jump its way to Mars across the solar system’s asteroid belt.
The idea of going after an asteroid and towing it back to lunar orbit seems much less cost-effective than simply approaching an asteroid in its already existing orbit, Binzel insisted. The professor said that it would cost “only” around $800 million to construct a dedicated space telescope to search for and identify asteroids large enough to attempt landings on. However, NASA seems determined to continue with its ARM endeavor as its next step towards its deep space exploration efforts for the time being.
This archive content was originally published November 2, 2014 (www.betawired.com)