NASA’s plans to retrieve a part of any asteroid and bring it close to Earth for study are misguided, says a US planetary scientist.
NASA should survey the abundant and more-easily-accessible near-Earth asteroids, which crewed missions could visit and use as stepping stones to reach the ultimate spaceflight destination, Mars.
Richard Binzel, Professor of Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, makes his case in a comment piece in this the latest edition of the international journal Nature.
As President Barack Obama shapes the 2015 US federal budget, NASA needs to select its priorities, writes Binzel.
However, NASA’s next stated priority is a wasted opportunity, he says.
The mission proposes to explore an asteroid by building a space craft with an arcade-game claw to tow a distant rock to a lunar orbit where astronauts could reach it in 2025.
Such a plan would not help to extend capabilities for increasing mission flight durations or craft speeds needed to reach Mars.
Instead, NASA should set up a new “Grand Challenge Mission” class to address the combined interests of science and technology for the benefit of humanity.
By channelling its money first to a comprehensive survey of asteroids, NASA would be able to reveal the most accessible asteroid destinations for crewed craft to visit in the next two decades.
That same survey would address the prudent and overdue assessment of future impact hazards. Robotic vehicles, resource retrieval and asteroid-deflection techniques could then be tested.
By gradually building up distance and duration capabilities, astronauts can build towards reaching Mars by mid-century.
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