NASA Asteroid Initiative

NASA recently launched an initiative to capture an asteroid to study and possibly even mine for usable commodities. The technology—still in the speculative stage—would use a solar-powered robot to basically bag-up a small asteroid (around 20 feet in diameter) and move it into a stable orbit around the moon.

Among the experts called to review and voice opinions about the initiative was Dr. Jim Bell, an astronomer and planetary scientist at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. He voices skepticism about the project, citing nonexistent technology, unknown costs, and the rarity of suitable candidates for capture. This last point is significant; of the 10,000 known asteroids orbiting our sun, only about 370 are small enough to be eligible. Of these, only 14 are in acceptable orbits. In light of these difficulties, Dr. Bell advises “a mix of skepticism and excitement” instead of wild-eyed optimism.

This is how NASA describes the mission:

The asteroid grand challenge complements NASA’s mission to find and capture a near-Earth asteroid, redirect it to a stable lunar orbit and send humans to study it. The asteroid redirect mission is included in President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget request for NASA, and leverages the agency’s progress on its Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft and cutting-edge technology development. The mission is one step in NASA’s plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

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