NASA’s Proposed Asteroid Capture Mission Animation

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The best two things  you can say about this video NASA just posted of its proposed asteroid capture mission is that it’s insanely cool to watch and it will cost you only 4 minutes and 42 seconds of your life. The worst you can say is that it will cost taxpayers billions of dollars in development costs before it is ultimately discarded as unworkable, impractical and—not to put too fine a point on it—ridiculous.

The unlikely plan, announced in April by Fla. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and said to be included in a $100 million appropriation in President Obama’s 2014 budget, is for an unmanned spaecraft to be launched by 2017 to capture a 25-ft., 500-ton asteroid with, yes, a giant drawstring bag. The rock would then be towed back to the vicinity of the moon where it would be safely parked in space. In 2021, astronauts would travel out to the asteroid in a brand new Apollo-like spacecraft lofted by a brand-new heavy-lift rocket. Once there, they would land, prospect for metals and learn more about both living off the cosmic land and deflecting rogue asteroids that might threaten Earth.

If you can get out to the asteroid in the first place, why would you tow it back to Earth instead of just collecting some samples of it and bringing it home? You wouldn’t. If you want to learn about living off the land, why would you pass up the infinitely more interesting, infinitely more available moon, which has a richer mineral make-up and even has water ice. Again, you wouldn’t. The good news is, we won’t.

This idea is of a piece with a manned space program that has been adrift for years and shows few signs of finding its way. The Apollo-like Orion spacecraft and the Saturn V-like Space Launch System are extremely promising projects and both are slowly creeping toward completion. When they’ll actually fly is impossible to say. Where they’ll fly has yet to be determined. The fever-dream of an asteroid capture mission will run its course. When it does, more sensible and scientifically inspiring destinations can then be chosen.

10 comments
spookiewriter
spookiewriter

The science obtained from this mission will help reveal some pretty interesting data about the solar system but yes, this might be a pretty shaky reason for this mission.

But, the engineering knowledge obtained would be of enormous value and easily makes this mission worthwhile.

It seems to me that the author is acting out a peculiar human arrogance. He doesn't see a need for the project because there can't be anyone else as smart as him who would find this worthwhile. So, case closed.

JamesMEssig
JamesMEssig

Just thought I bring the attention of the reader to some really cool books on rocket propelled spacecraft on steroids.

I have recently written a book on relativistic rockets, Call Of The Cosmic Wild: Relativistic Rockets For The New Millennium. The book is available as an attractive full color paperback and also as a very affordable gray-scale edition. The book is also available in Kindle, NOOK, and e-book formats.

Having graduated with a degree in physics from George Mason University, I have decided several years ago that there is a need for realistic consideration of interstellar travel prospects based on currently known physics and plausible engineering principles. Thus, I have decided to devote my life to research, writing, and advocacy for a bold future of deep space exploration with a primary focus on prospects for manned interstellar travel.

I have more recently published another book, The Galactic Explorer: Advanced Concepts In Relativistic Rocket Flight. This book is also available in Kindle and NOOK formats, and as a color paperback edition.

I have coauthored yet another book, The Cosmic Wanderer: Unconventional Concepts In Relativistic Rocket Flight. This book will be available within the next few weeks as an attractive, sturdy, color, paperback edition.

I am currently editing my fourth book on relativistic rockets but have not yet selected a book title.

I am interested in promoting an awareness of the long term possibilities for manned interstellar space travel in ways that physicists, engineers, educators, students, and policy makers can appreciate. I warmly welcome the opportunity to collaborate with persons sharing complementary interests.

Should you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact either Outskirts Press (for information about Call Of The Cosmic Wild: Relativistic Rockets For The New Millennium) or myself for additional details about the other books.

arcticredriver
arcticredriver

The author of this article describes the moon as " infinitely more interesting, infinitely more available moon".   First, "infintiely"?  Really?  Isn't that a pretty serious exagerration?  Second, as to the moon being "more available" -- our moon is a substantial body -- with its own gravity.  The Apollo project's Saturn 5 rockets had to be large enough to loft the fuel to land -- and blast off from our moon.  And this weight penalty would be unnecessary if robots brought small asteroids to an Earth orbit.

As to "more interesting" -- well we know something about the surface of the moon, from Apollo.  We don't know so much about nickel-iron asteroids.  So, why aren't they interesting?

RealityBasedLifeForm
RealityBasedLifeForm

Jeffrey, you display a remarkable lack of imagination.  A shame you were assigned to the NASA beat.  This is a remarkable project, and I'd rather pay for ten of these missions than build another stealth bomber.  Since we spend more on war preparation than the rest of the world COMBINED, I would think we could re-align our spending priorities to focus on the future of humanity (NASA'a mission) versus killing each other.

KotaAtul
KotaAtul

GreatSpaceMission & exceptionally wonderful VDO . . . . CONGRATULATIONS !

steelgoat67
steelgoat67

Mister Kluger, you do not understand the concept here. This is an investment that will save money towards future manned lunar expeditions, and that's before the dollars saved in exploring asteroids. It's a ridiculously simple logic: why travel millions of miles to an asteroid to study it when you can bring the asteroid in for a closer look? With it in place, and in a convenient location to boot, why not use it as something of an orbiting moon-base (and "truck-stop") for future manned missions? There's nothing better at shielding us radiation-adverse organisms from radiation than a few metric tonnes of rock. Still see a pointless rock and a useless endeavour? NASA sees a longer-game than 1969 wistful romanticism.

ftaylor101
ftaylor101

The author of this article asks questions then doesn't bother to explore them. WilliamWCampbell proposes a few of MANY good answers to why we should lasso an asteroid and why using asteroid resources is a great idea.

DanielJohnson1
DanielJohnson1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Hold the phone. This mission is VASTLY cheaper than a moon outpost. It is a necessary step in establishing a space based economy and developing private companies to mine asteroids. Asteroid mining has infinite value to our space program and to humans as a species. The water, oxygen and hydrogen ALONE holds tremendous economic and scientific value and can support manned missions in the future. This is exactly the time we need to be collecting asteroids, why would you bad mouth the mission? It's not ridiculous, it's completely feasible, practical and entirely necessary for continued space development. What costs tax payers more is shooting resources from the ground into orbit rather than mining them in space.

WilliamWCampbell
WilliamWCampbell like.author.displayName 1 Like

"If you can get out to the asteroid in the first place, why would you tow it back to Earth....?" Because asteroids are too far for a manned mission, round trip would be over a year. Also this is a great test to see if we can exploit the mineral bounty that asteroids offer. "If you want to learn about living off the land, why would you pass up the infinitely more interesting, infinitely more available moon...?" Because building lunar landers require billions more dollars. You just "dock" with the asteroid.