Manned Asteroid Mission as a Gap Filler... Nov 17, 2006 0:49:52 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Nov 17, 2006 0:49:52 GMT -6
NASA Studies Manned Asteroid Mission
NASA is appraising a human mission to a near-Earth asteroid—gauging the scientific merit of the endeavor while testing out spacecraft gear, as well as mastering techniques that could prove useful if a space rock ever took aim for our planet.
Space agency teams are looking into use of Constellation hardware for a human Near-Earth Object (NEO) mission—an effort underway at NASA’s Ames Research. Another study is delving into use of Constellation components to support an automated Mars sample return mission. That study is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The Constellation Program encompasses NASA’s initial efforts to extend the human presence throughout the solar system.
Major pieces of the Constellation Program—such as the Orion crew vehicle—are meant to support transport of humans and cargo to the Moon and to the International Space Station, while future efforts would sustain missions to Mars and beyond.
Astronauts, engineers and scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas have been looking into the capabilities of the Orion vehicle for a mission to a near-Earth asteroid.
A human mission to an asteroid could be viewed somewhat as a gap-filler.
“After a lunar visit, we face a long interval in Earth-Moon space while we build up experience and technology for a Mars mission,” Jones suggested. An asteroid mission “could take us immediately into deep-space, sustaining program momentum, adding public excitement, and reducing the risk of a later Mars mission,” he said.
“Near-Earth object exploration is especially important if the Moon turns out to be bereft of extractable resources,” Jones pointed out. “Astronauts could collect a rich array of samples from the most scientifically interesting sites on the near-Earth object—dating back to the earliest days of the solar system—set up a pilot resource extraction experiment, demonstrate technology necessary for a future near-Earth object deflection mission, and look back at Earth from millions of miles away. The view would be breathtaking,” he said.
A human journey to an asteroid stretches our deep-space legs, Jones said, “and challenges ourselves operationally even after we return to the Moon.”