NASA to Get $100 Million for Asteroid-Capture Mission
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. Senator Bill Nelson says.
The $100 million will probably be part of President Barack Obama’s federal budget request for 2014, which is expected to be released next week, Nelson (D-FL) said. 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.
“This is part of what will be a much broader program,” Nelson said Friday (April 5), during a visit to Orlando. “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.”NASA’s plan involves catching a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) with a robotic spacecraft, then towing the space rock to a stable lunar orbit, Nelson said. Astronauts would then be sent to the asteroid in 2021 using NASA’s Orion capsule and Space Launch System rocket, both of which are in development.
The idea is similar to one proposed last year by researchers based at Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies in Pasadena.
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, 23-foot-wide (7-meter-wide) space rock back near the moon. (Experts say such an asteroid is too small to threaten Earth. In comparison, the asteroid that blew apart over Russia in February, creating a meteoric blast, was thought to be 55 feet or 17 meters wide.)
“Experience gained via human expeditions to the small returned NEA would transfer directly to follow-on international expeditions beyond the Earth-moon system: to other near-Earth asteroids, [the Mars moons] Phobos and Deimos, Mars and potentially someday to the main asteroid belt,” the Keck team wrote in a feasibility study of their plan.
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.
Nelson said he thinks the Obama Administration is in favor of the asteroid-retrieval plan. In 2010, the President directed NASA to work to get astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025, then on to the vicinity of Mars by the mid-2030s.
News of the potential $100 million allocation is not a complete surprise, as Aviation Week reported late last month that NASA was seeking that amount in 2014 for an asteroid-retrieval program.
This more humorous article states:
Obama Administration: Don't Worry, We'll Only Drag Small Asteroids Toward EarthLast Friday, the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) blasted out a press release noting that President Obama's forthcoming budget plan (to be released on Wednesday) includes a $100 million initiative to abduct an asteroid, tow it toward Earth, place it into our moon's orbit, and claim the space rock for 'Murica. American astronauts would then travel to the asteroid and potentially conduct mining operations and research ways of deflecting future civilization-ending asteroid attacks on Earth.
The Obama administration has confirmed the existence of this section of the president's upcoming budget proposal. An official close to the matter filled me in on some of the details. The source wanted to make two things clear. First, the proposal does not increase NASA's budget—existing efforts and funds would be redirected to the $100 million asteroid-lasso plan. Second, if the audacious-sounding mission goes through, NASA promises only to drag small asteroids toward Earth and into lunar orbit. If something were to go horribly wrong, the relatively small size of the target asteroid would ensure that the rock is harmless to the planet.
In other words, Barack Obama is not risking accidentally throwing a killer asteroid at the world with this plan.
Last year, the president established a goal of landing astronauts on a near-Earth asteroid by 2025. This new plan could bump up the date to 2021. ("NASA is in the planning stages of an innovative mission to accomplish the President's challenge of sending humans to visit an asteroid by 2025 in a more cost-effective and potentially quicker time frame than under other scenarios," an administration official wrote in an email.)
"This is part of what will be a much broader program," Nelson said last week, during a visit in Orlando. "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." Nelson was recently on the Senate panel responsible for grilling scientists about the consequences of an asteroid impact. In March, a highly publicized asteroid the size of a city block came sorta, kinda, maybe close to smashing into Earth. In February, a truck-sized meteor exploded over Russia's Ural Mountains, creating a sonic boom, injuring roughly 1,500 people, and damaging many buildings.
On a related note, here's the trailer for Asteroid, a 1997 NBC miniseries about the president of the United States and a FEMA director scrambling to stop asteroids from killing America: