20 August 2013

NASA's Bolden downplays planetary defense, science benefits of asteroid mission

From: http://www.examiner.com/article/nasa-s-bolden-downplays-planetary-defense-science-benefits-of-asteroid-mission August 10, 2013 post in the Space Politics blog relates how NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made a remarkable admission about the planned asteroid mission that the space agency is contemplating. Not only will it not advance the cause of planetary defense against asteroid strike but will have no significant scientific benefit. Instead Bolden defended the asteroid mission, which would involve the capture of a small asteroid and its diversion to lunar orbit to be visited by astronauts, as an engineering exercise. It would test a number of technologies that is hoped would be applicable for an eventual crewed mission to Mars, such as solar electric propulsion. Bolden also seemed to admit that the choice of an asteroid mission is largely budget driven, since he stated that there is not enough money to return to the moon, something desired by many in Congress as well as by experts both inside and outside of NASA. The space agency also seemed to suggest that the planned 2021 date for the crewed part of the mission was likely to slip, mainly because of the difficulty of finding a target asteroid of the right size, orbit, and mass. “Previously, NASA had talked about redirecting an asteroid to provide a destination for the first crewed SLS/Orion mission, designated Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2), planned for launch in 2021. One challenge has been, though, finding a target that, even in the most optimistic scenarios for the development of the robotic ARM spacecraft, could be put into the designed distant retrograde orbit by 2021. In a briefing about the initiative at the NAC meeting, NASA’s Michele Gates said ‘our current concepts are looking at either EM-3 or EM-4’ for the Orion mission to the asteroid. That would likely push out the mission into the mid-2020s, given the expected cadence of at least two years between SLS/Orion flights.” There is no word about what the first one or two crewed SLS/Orion flights would accomplish.