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Video: How NASA intends to capture an asteroid

Why capture an asteroid? It’s something NASA wants to learn to do, in case astronomers someday find an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

Earlier today (April 10, 2013), President Obama and NASA released details of the FY 2014 budget, which includes $100 million for what NASA calls the Asteroid Retrieval and Utilization Mission. NASA wants to begin work on what would ultimately send a robot spacecraft toward a rendezvous with a near-Earth object (NEO). The spacecraft would capture the asteroid, then steer it to the Earth-moon libration point (EML2), a relatively stable (but moving) gravitational point in space (because not as much fuel is required to maintain a spacecraft at this point). The EML2 point is located on the moon’s far side. After the captured asteroid is situated there, human astronauts would launch from Earth to rendezvous with it and begin their studies. The video below is definitely worth watching! It’ll show you, without words, what NASA intends.

Why do all this? The focus is on a better understanding of asteroids that could potentially harm Earth.

There were several statements released by NASA administrators today. They are as follows:

From Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier:

The mission to find, capture and redirect an asteroid robotically, and then visit it with astronauts to study it and return samples takes advantage of expertise across all of NASA in an integrated approach to exploration. 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. 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 crew interactions with the asteroid.

From Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld:

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. The capture mission will be a highly visible and significant collaboration of robotic and human exploration in translunar space.

From Associate Administrator for Space Technology Michael Gazarik:

This mission accelerates our technology development activities in high-powered solar electric propulsion. The ambitious mission to rendezvous, capture and redirect a small asteroid to Earth-Moon space could not be accomplished without solar electric propulsion technology. This technology also will support the commercial telecommunications and satellite industries, and is an essential step toward future NASA human and robotic exploration forays into deep space.

Bottom line: NASA and President Obama today officially announced a proposed budget item ($100 million) for the Asteroid Retrieval and Utilization Mission.

Deborah Byrd