U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was being serious Friday, when he visited Florida and told of a bold plan by the nation's space industry to wrangle an asteroid and bring it home for research.
When President Barack Obama released his budget Wednesday, tucked away in the $17.7 billion for NASA was, in fact, $100 million for the asteroid program, which will be used as a springboard to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.
The space agency intends to "capture and redirect an asteroid robotically" then study it and mine it for samples. NASA looks to finishing the planning of the mission this year and work on prototypes in 2014 to lasso the asteroid. The mission is expected to be complete by 2025.
"Along with the scientific research and technology demonstrations happening around the clock on the International Space Station that are teaching us how humans can live and work in space, this mission will give us valuable experience we need in deep space operations to send humans to more distant destinations in the solar system, including Mars," said Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier. "Through the balance of this fiscal year, we will work to define an affordable mission architecture. In fiscal year 2014, NASA will begin developing and testing prototype capture mechanisms and concepts for crewinteractions with the asteroid."
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said after the budget announcement that the nearly $18 billion total for NASA is an investment in America's future as a world leader in space.
For this mission, the space agency plans to use an advanced SEP-based spacecraft and robots to reach the asteroid and move it to a stable orbit near the moon and Earth, which would allow human crews more flexibility to reach the rock.
"The crucial first step in this endeavor is to enhance our ongoing efforts to identify and characterize near-Earth objects for scientific investigation and to find potentially hazardous asteroids and targets appropriate for capture," said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science. "The capture mission will behighly visible and significant collaboration of robotic and human exploration in translunar space."
Anne Smith writes special to Sunshine State News.