NASA plans to redirect asteroid into moon’s orbit so astronauts can explore it

NASA is seriously considering redirecting an asteroid to orbit around the moon so astronauts can explore it in the 2020’s with Asteroid Redirect Mission.

When you talk about asteroids, Bruce Willis starrer Armageddon comes to mind. In the movie, a rogue asteroid is hurtling towards earth and could cause mass human extinction. However Willis and his team of oil rig drillers embark on a mission to travel to the asteroid and drill a hole in the center of the asteroid to plant a nuke device. Willis and his team successfully drill the same and Willis dies while detonating the nuke.

This scenario though hypothetical, is possible in future. That is why NASA wants to study asteroids up close. What better way than to have your own asteroid in your backyard to take samples and conduct experiments. Thus, NASA plans to redirect an asteroid into our moon’s orbit by 2020.

NASA plans include visit a large near-Earth asteroid by developing the first ever robot for this mission, which would gather a multi-ton boulder from its surface, and pass it on into a stable orbit around the moon. Once passed on, astronauts will explore it and return with samples in the 2020s. As a part of NASA’s plan to advance the new technologies and spaceflight experience, this Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is required for a human mission to the Martian system in the 2030s.

Multiple candidate asteroids have been recognized by NASA. However, its search for the one that could be redirected to near the moon in the 2020s continues. More than 1,000 new near-Earth asteroids discovered by various search teams have been catalogued by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observation Program from the time the Asteroid Initiative was announced in 2013. Four candidates have been found out to be good for ARM so far. Over the next few years, many more are expected to be discovered by the scientists. Before deciding on the target asteroid for the ARM mission, NASA will study their velocity, orbit, size and spin.

The ARM is one part of NASA’s Asteroid Initiative. An Asteroid Grand Challenge is also included in the initiative, which is created to speed up NASA’s efforts to discover potentially dangerous asteroids through non-traditional collaborations and partnerships. The challenge could also help recognize viable candidates for ARM.

NASA plans to launch the ARM robotic spacecraft at the end of this decade. Using a robotic arm, the spacecraft will seize a boulder off of a large asteroid. The spacecraft will then redirect it to a stable orbit around the moon called a “Distant Retrograde Orbit”, after an asteroid mass is collected. Launched from a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, astronauts aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft will explore the asteroid in the mid-2020s.

Asteroids are left-over materials from the solar system’s formation. The return of astronauts to Earth could see far more samples than ever that have been available for study, which could open new scientific discoveries about the beginning of life on Earth and formation of our solar system.

Planetary defense techniques to deflect dangerous asteroids and protect Earth if needed in the future will also be illustrated by the robotic mission. NASA will select an asteroid mass for capture with a size and mass that cannot harm the Earth, because it would burn up in the atmosphere. Further, to make sure that it is a stable orbit, the asteroid mass needs to be redirected to a distant retrograde orbit around the moon that will also ensure that it will not hit Earth.

NASA’s ARM will most importantly advance NASA’s human path to Mars to a great extent, putting to test the capabilities that are required for a crewed mission to the Red Planet in the 2030s.

Resource: NASA

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