Quick! Someone Call Bruce Willis... And Aerosmith!
Usually it happens the other way around... but this time NASA is
taking some cues from Hollywood on a possible future mission to an
asteroid. Luckily, this one isn't on a collision course with
Once considered a threat, the asteroid named 2000SG344 is no
longer a risk says NASA, but its close proximity as a Near-Earth
Object (NEO) makes it a good candidate for a mission to help
scientists understand more about the birth of the solar system, and
how best to defend against Earth-threatening asteroids.
The London Daily Telegraph reported this week a study slated to
be published next month by NASA outlines a plan to utilize the
next-generation Orion space vehicle to deliver a two-person pod to
the surface of the asteroid as it travels through space at 28,000
"An asteroid will one day be on a collision course with Earth.
Doesn't it make sense, after going to the moon, to start learning
more about them?" said Rob Landis, an engineer at Johnson Space
Center and co-author of the report, which is due to be published in
the journal Acta Astronautica.
Scientists at Houston's Johnson
Space Center and the Ames Research Center in California envision
the mission as a way to familiarize astronauts to more complex
missions as a stepping stone to future exploration of the Solar
System. The report recommends such a mission to take place shortly
after the NASA plan to revisit the moon after 2020.
"Our study shows it makes perfect sense to do this soon after
going back to the Moon," said Landis.
Veteran astronaut Tom Jones reinforced the importance of such a
mission in a 2006 interview. "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 and demonstrate technology necessary for a
future near-Earth object deflection mission."
Scientists also note experimentation on the asteroid surface
could allow the agency to gain insight on technologies where
subsurface ice could be converted into drinking water, breathable
oxygen, or even hydrogen for spacecraft propulsion.
The report elaborates beyond technology to also address human
factors concerns as the three-month mission would test the
psychological effects of long-term missions as well as the risks of
working in deep space.
Such insights would aid in the planning of NASA's planned
two-year Mars expedition.