06 September 2010

Next giant leap: With support growing, NASA takes a small step toward walking on an asteroid

From: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/nation/7188211.html

Hollywood fancies that when an asteroid threatens Earth, NASA will respond by rounding up a crew and nuking the space rock.
Before doing this, though, it would be nice to know exactly what we'd be nuking, and the fact is scientists just don't know.
But that may soon change.
There's growing support for the idea that NASA's next human flight beyond low-Earth orbit should target a near-Earth asteroid, rather than our already visited celestial neighbor, the moon.
"It's a concept that I think a lot of people can relate to," said Laurie Leshin, deputy administrator for NASA's Exploration Program.
As a destination, an asteroid appeals to NASA because it's a challenging but doable mission that will test much of the technology that would be needed for a flight to Mars.
Innumerable small asteroids, remnants from the formation of the solar system that weren't swept up by planets, glide around the sun on orbits bringing them close to Earth. About the size of a house or a small building, they could at a minimum destroy a large city on impact.
...Such a mission also appeals to scientists, Leshin said, who know little about the interior of asteroids and would like to study large samples that could be returned.
And there's the planetary defense community, which is interested to know the interior composition of asteroids, in case one needs to be deflected.
Finally, the mission has the potential to capture the public's attention, which already has been primed to fear killer asteroids by Hollywood.

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