Obama wants $105 million in NASA budget to capture asteroid
WASHINGTON — The next giant leap in space exploration may be a short hop on a small space rock.
Next week, President Obama will request $105 million in NASA's 2014 budget for a mission that would capture a small asteroid, tug it near the moon, and later send astronauts to study it and grab samples.
The asteroid-capturing robot could launch as soon as 2017, with astronauts flying to meet it near the moon by 2021, according to a NASA briefing presented to Congress last week.
The president's request includes $78 million for NASA to develop technologies for the project and $27 million for beefing up the agency's asteroid-detection work. The mission would fulfill a goal Obama set three years ago to send astronauts to an asteroid.
The mission would marry ongoing NASA projects, including asteroid detection, robotic spacecraft development, the construction of a giant new rocket — the Space Launch System — and the building of a deep-space human exploration capsule called Orion. A non-crewed test launch of Orion is set for next year.
By this summer, NASA is to decide whether the project is feasible, according to agency documents.
Crews visiting the captured asteroid could conduct experiments in extracting water, oxygen, metals and silicon, all valuable materials that would help future astronauts “live off the land” during long missions.
On Friday, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a big NASA booster, championed the project, saying it “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.”
Under the plan, an Atlas V rocket would send the robotic craft toward a 20- to 30-foot-wide asteroid. Upon arrival, the craft would deploy a big bag, stuff the asteroid into it and start motoring toward the moon. The Space Launch System and Orion would later deliver the human crew.
A 2012 study estimated that moving an asteroid to the moon could take six to 10 years, pushing the timeline for a human asteroid landing beyond 2021. NASA would ultimately need $2.6 billion for the robotic capture phase, according to the study from the Keck Institute for Space Studies, and billions more for the human mission.
Technical challenges abound, said former NASA astronaut Rusty Schweickart, including finding the right asteroid and figuring out how to corral it. “One big issue is how do you hold on?” he said. “Frankly, nobody knows how to attach to an asteroid. It's a blank spot in our knowledge.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Corinthian Colleges to shut down more than two dozen remaining schools
- Presley’s planes will remain at Graceland
- Study a surprise: Commercial bees unfazed by pesticides
- Supreme Court leans toward legalizing gay marriage nationally
- Mourners attend Baltimore man’s wake
- Severe storm with tornado roars into north Texas