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Waspie_Dwarf

NASA's Asteroid Initiative

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NASA's Asteroid Initiative Benefits From Rich History

NASA's FY2014 budget proposal includes a plan to robotically capture a small near-Earth asteroid and redirect it safely to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system where astronauts can visit and explore it.

Performing these elements for the proposed asteroid initiative integrates the best of NASA's science, technology and human exploration capabilities and draws on the innovation of America's brightest scientists and engineers. It uses current and developing capabilities to find both large asteroids that pose a hazard to Earth and small asteroids that could be candidates for the initiative, accelerates our technology development activities in high-powered solar electric propulsion and takes advantage of our hard work on the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, helping to keep NASA on target to reach the President's goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

When astronauts don their spacesuits and venture out for a spacewalk on the surface of an asteroid, how they move and take samples of it will be based on years of knowledge built by NASA scientists and engineers who have assembled and operated the International Space Station, evaluated exploration mission concepts, sent scientific spacecraft to characterize near-Earth objects and performed ground-based analog missions.

Watch Asteroid Initiative Animation:

As early as the 1970s, NASA examined potential ways to use existing hardware to visit an asteroid to understand better its characteristics. On the International Space Station, scientific investigations and technology demonstrations are improving knowledge of how humans can live and work in space. The agency also has examined many possible mission concepts to help define what capabilities are needed to push the boundaries of space exploration.

During the early space shuttle flights and through assembly of the space station, NASA has relied on testing both in space and on Earth to try out ideas through a host of analog missions, or field tests, that simulate the complexity of endeavors in space.

Through 16 missions in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's underwater Aquarius Reef Base off the coast of Key Largo, Fla., aquanauts have tested techniques for human space exploration. These underwater tests have been built upon the experience gained by training astronauts in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to assemble and maintain the space station. The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 15 and 16 missions in 2011 and 2012, respectively, simulated several challenges explorers will face when visiting an asteroid, including how to anchor to and move around the surface of a near-Earth object and how to collect samples of it.

NASA also has simulated an asteroid mission as part of its 2012 Research and Technology Studies ground test at Johnson. During the simulation, a team evaluated how astronauts might do a spacewalk on an asteroid and accomplish other goals. While performing a spacewalk on a captured asteroid will involve different techniques than the activities performed during recent analog exercises, decisions made about ways to best sample an asteroid will be informed by the agency’s on-going concept development and past work.

Scientific missions also have investigated the nature of asteroids to provide a glimpse of the origins of the solar system. From the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, which in 1972 was the first to venture into the Main Asteroid Belt, to the Dawn mission, which recently concluded its investigations of asteroid Vesta and is on its way to the dwarf planet Ceres, NASA's forays help us understand the origins of the solar system and inform decisions about how to conduct missions to distant planetary bodies. Scientists both at NASA and across the world also continue to study asteroids to shed light on their unique characteristics.

As NASA ventures farther into the solar system, the agency continues to simulate and evaluate operations and technical concepts for visiting an asteroid.

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Bruce (Willis from the movie Armageddon), we are coming to get you!

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I know. This venture has disaster movie written all over it, doesn't it?

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They're being so vague about the reasoning behind this... what's the point?

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Nothing could possibly go wrong here.

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sounds pretty interesting although honestly i believe that we could learn more by exploring the moon specifically the dark side of the moon.i mean honestly i wonder why the united states or any other space agency are so hesitant to go there.for one its closer to earth than a asteroid and it will take less than 2025.but sending a person to a asteroid is good experience and we might learn something useful or various things as well on that i agree

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Sounds like an old 50's science fiction movie to me.

Nasa dont want to put us in space but they wanna land on an asteroid lol

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Let's go to the moon YAY WE DID IT (maybe)

50 years later

We can hardly even get back, and now we want to try and get on a moving target.

Anyone else think Nasa's eyes are getting greedy.

We should be focusing on the moon, if we could set up something there then it would be so much easier to launch space missions no?

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They're being so vague about the reasoning behind this... what's the point?

Yeah I am a bit baffled. If it is going to be in orbit around the moon, why not just go back to the moon. Far more interesting.

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Yeah I am a bit baffled. If it is going to be in orbit around the moon, why not just go back to the moon. Far more interesting.

Obama has directed NASA to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, the reasoning for this is that we need to examine one up close to learn the best way to protect the Earth from them, so the mission itself makes sense.

The problem for NASA is that to visit a Near Earth asteroid in it's own orbit would require a mission lasting several months and Orion simply will not be ready for such long missions by then. Bringing the asteroid to lunar orbit will reduce the manned part of the mission to days rather than months, making it achievable within the time frame and safer for the crew, so again this is logical.

Visiting the Moon would require the development of a landing vehicle, something NASA does not have and has not been given the budget for. Visiting an asteroid in lunar orbit needs only the Space Launch System and Orion, these are in development and are budgeted for.

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Posted (edited)

Why not put it in earth orbit? I am guessing it has something to do with orbital speed.

Edited by Merc14

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Why not put it in earth orbit? I am guessing it has something to do with orbital speed.

Technically the orbit chosen is an Earth orbit as it is likely to be placed in one of the Lagrangian points, where the Earth and the Moon's gravitational fields effectively cancel each other out. Such an orbit is very stable, so there is no danger of the asteroid dropping out of orbit and hitting a city.

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Technically the orbit chosen is an Earth orbit as it is likely to be placed in one of the Lagrangian points, where the Earth and the Moon's gravitational fields effectively cancel each other out. Such an orbit is very stable, so there is no danger of the asteroid dropping out of orbit and hitting a city.

I didn't realize it was being put at a Lagrangian point. Thanks.

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Posted (edited)

Strong Kennedy Role in Exciting Asteroid Mission

Kennedy Space Center will have a leading role in NASA's plans to capture an asteroid and launch astronauts to explore it, the center's director told employees shortly before the agency's 2014 budget proposal was released.

"It does everything that needs to be done as far as developing the technologies and the skills that we need for exploration beyond planet Earth," said Bob Cabana, director of the Florida center. "Testing out our spacecraft on a real mission instead of a pure test flight I think is very exciting. The team here at Kennedy, we're ready to get on board and make this happen. I'm very excited about this mission."

The overall budget proposal for NASA features $2.3 billion for Kennedy projects and programs, including the Launch Services Program, Commercial Crew Program and Ground Systems Development and Operations Program.

The proposal is the first step in the budget process with Congress offering its own suggestions during the next few months. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The centerpiece of the proposal is NASA's aim to capture an asteroid with a robotic craft and maneuver it into an orbit closer to Earth. Astronauts would launch in an Orion spacecraft aboard a Space Launch System rocket to collect samples and conduct firsthand research on the relocated asteroid.

The mission could take place as soon as 2021, four years in advance of the goal set by President Barack Obama when he visited Kennedy in 2010 and challenged NASA to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025.

Developing the rocket, spacecraft and in-space propulsion system needed to make the mission work involves aspects of processing, launch and research that Kennedy specializes in, Cabana said.

"Everything we're doing leads to making that successful, we have a key role in all of it," Cabana said.

For example, the Orion spacecraft is being readied in the Operations and Checkout Building for a flight test in 2014 to check out the design's fitness.

Modifications for processing, ground support equipment and launch facilities for the Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, are already far along and the proposal includes money to keep making the changes to complete the 21st Century Space Launch Complex concept.

The budget proposal includes about $99 million for continued modifications to the VAB, plus about $14 million for Launch Complex 39B which is deep into its modifications schedule to accommodate the rocket as well as those from commercial companies.

"We continue to make that pad not just to support SLS, but we also want to make it available to support other commercial launch operations," Cabana said.

The Saturn V-class rocket will be stacked atop the mobile launcher inside the VAB. It is to launch from 39B.

The SLS will make it first flight in 2017 with an Orion for a shakedown flight test. Astronauts are slated to fly an Orion for the first time in 2021. That mission could be the one that carries the crew to an asteroid, depending on how the plan progresses.

The Kennedy-based Commercial Crew Program, or CCP will keep working toward a 2017 milestone of its own under this year's budget proposal.

"You can see that the Commercial Crew Program is funded extremely well and that's crucial," Cabana said.

The budget plan calls for $780 million for Kennedy's portion of the program. That amount will allow astronauts to begin flying on privately developed spacecraft and rockets in 2017, said Charles Bolden, NASA administrator.

The Launch Services Program, or LSP, is slated for about $77 million under the proposal. It will oversee several launches in the next fiscal year, starting with the MAVEN spacecraft in November. MAVEN is designed to orbit Mars and find out how and why the Martian atmosphere changed.

"Our Launch Services Program continues to be the backbone for providing our science missions to make NASA successful," Cabana said.

LSP will also be involved with another project NASA included, a landing on Mars in 2020 by a scientific rover which will come on the heels of the success of the Mars Science Lab Curiosity.

The asteroid exploration mission is expected to stretch across three of the agency's directorates and impact planning for a number of areas at Kennedy, Cabana said.

Steven Siceloff,

Kennedy Space Center

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Edited by Waspie_Dwarf
corrected title.

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NASA Marks Progress on Anniversary of President's Space Exploration Vision

On the third anniversary of President Obama's visit to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where he set his space exploration vision for the future, news media representatives were given an opportunity to see up close the Orion spacecraft that could take astronauts on an asteroid sampling mission as early as 2021.

Key leaders from across the agency shared progress being made on the spacecraft and infrastructure that will send humans to the asteroid, and eventually to Mars. Orion currently is being prepared in Kennedy's Operations and Checkout Building (O&C) for its first flight test, Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1, in 2014.

"Three years ago today, the president was here in an empty high bay challenging us to go to an asteroid by 2025," said Bob Cabana, Kennedy director. "Today, this is a world-class production facility with a flight vehicle, Orion, getting ready to fly next year. We've made tremendous progress in our transition to the future."

Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development; Mark Geyer, Orion program manager; Keith Hefner, Space Launch System program planning and control manager; and Scott Colloredo, chief architect for the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program, also discussed progress being made on final assembly and integration of Orion for the uncrewed flight test that will see the vehicle travel farther into space than any human spacecraft has gone in more than 30 years. The main objective of EFT-1 is to test Orion's heat shield at the high speeds generated during a return from deep space.

"What you see behind us is an example of that wonderful progress that has been made by the Orion team," said Dumbacher. "There is also great progress by the Space Launch System team getting the launch vehicle ready."

The president's Fiscal Year 2014 budget request for NASA provides funding for an initiative to robotically capture an asteroid and redirect it to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system. Astronauts then would launch in Orion aboard a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to collect samples of and explore the relocated asteroid.

Designed to expand human presence and enable exploration of new destinations in the solar system, Orion and SLS are part of the president's goal to reach beyond where anyone has gone before.

"I believe it’s more important to ramp up our capabilities to reach -- and operate at -- a series of increasingly demanding targets, while advancing our technological capabilities with each step forward," Obama said in his 2010 address at Kennedy. "And that’s what this strategy does. And that’s how we will ensure that our leadership in space is even stronger in this new century than it was in the last."

All of the Orion subsystems and components created around the country are coming together in the O&C. In the near future, the production team will apply heat-shielding thermal protection systems, avionics and other hardware to the spacecraft.

NASA's SLS, a heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide new capability for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, will boost Orion off the planet on a flight test in 2017. It is designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions.

"We are thrilled with this mission," Dumbacher said. "We're looking forward to it. It will be a challenge, it will be complex. But NASA's up to the challenge and the team you see represented here is ready and willing to take it on."

The president's proposal is the first step in the budget process with Congress offering its own suggestions during the next few months. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

During the president's 2010 address at Kennedy, he spoke of the value of NASA's work.

"For pennies on the dollar, the space program has fueled jobs and entire industries," he said. "For pennies on the dollar, the space program has improved our lives, advanced our society, strengthened our economy, and inspired generations of Americans."

Steven Siceloff,

Kennedy Space Center

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The Long and Storied Path to Human Asteroid Exploration

Within NASA’s new FY2014 budget proposal lies a project known as the Asteroid Retrieval and Utilization Mission. This project would be the first to capture a small near-Earth asteroid and safely redirect it to a lunar orbit so that astronauts can visit and explore it. Such a mission would expand scientific knowledge of the origins of both humanity and the universe.

The goal of asteroid retrieval is not a new endeavor for NASA. In fact, the idea dates to the earliest days of the agency. In a 1964 document that looked at “long range future mission planning,” NASA expressed an early aspiration to visit asteroids through unmanned probes by the end of the 1970s. NASA did indeed send a probe through the asteroid belt early in that decade – Pioneer 10 safely traversed the Belt on its way to Jupiter in 1972. By 1969, according to a “Five Year Plan” laid out by the Office of Manned Space Flight, NASA was already looking at plans to send crewed missions to asteroids. However, at the time, the then-latest technology was insufficient to pursue this goal. NASA administrator Robert A. Frosch mentioned this in testimony to Congress on July 29, 1980, when he explained that “a number of evolutionary stages of technology development would be required” for such missions, including “asteroid retrieval to Earth.” Although the capabilities did not yet exist, it is noteworthy that the NASA administrator himself was publicly discussing the idea of asteroid retrieval in 1980. Asteroid retrieval was not just a pipe dream in the minds of a few NASA scientists!

Over the next two decades NASA continued studies and technology development work that would facilitate the capture and exploration of asteroids. In 1992, NASA sponsored a “Near-Earth-Object Interception Workshop” in Los Alamos, New Mexico. At this workshop, those present discussed a “space-based fabrication of very large, microlayer solar sails for asteroid retrieval.” Also discussed was the idea that “such capabilities clearly depend on much expanded human operations in space.” More recently, the International Space Station, has allowed NASA and its international partners to both complete a great deal of research on how to live and work in space, and also to explore long-duration human space flight and its effects on astronauts.

Since the dawn of the new millennium, NASA has also sent several missions to explore asteroids. Multiple probes have completed flybys of asteroids on their way to other planets, and two missions have launched specifically to study asteroids. NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous)-Shoemaker became the first spacecraft to orbit and touch down on an asteroid when it reached the asteroid Eros in 2000 and descended to its surface in 2001, and in July 2011, the Dawn spacecraft became the first probe to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt when it reached the asteroid Vesta. Having completed its investigation of Vesta, Dawn is now on its way to our solar system’s largest asteroid, Ceres.

Thus, NASA’s new Asteroid Retrieval and Utilization Mission is deeply rooted in the storied past of the agency. Thanks to many years of planning and recent technology developments, NASA now has the capability to accelerate current programs that are working on high-powered solar electric propulsion. This, alongside our work on the Space Launch System launch vehicle and the Orion spacecraft, will help us achieve a goal first imagined in the 1960s of retrieving an asteroid for human exploration.

Michelle K. Dailey

Spring 2013 Intern

NASA History Office Program

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