NASA’s asteroid lasso mission
NASA is planning an expedition to capture an asteroid.
Shortly after a large meteor hit Russia in February, injuring about 1,000 people, President Obama’s administration announced that the U.S. would work on asteroid tracking technology to avoid potentially more severe Earth collisions. On Monday, top NASA administrator Charles Bolden reiterated this pledge.
Bolden spoke at the Human to Mars Summit in Washington, D.C. on Monday and said that a robotic spacecraft mission currently being planned will “prepare efforts to prevent an asteroid from colliding with devastating force into our planet,”according to U.S. News & World Report.
The government’s plan is surprisingly similar to the premise of the 1998 film “Armageddon,” but in the real-life scenario the U.S. space agency plans to lasso a small asteroid and tow it close enough to Earth so that it can be visited by astronauts. The astronauts then will collect samples and conduct research that could one day assist in a mission to Mars or save Earth from a catastrophic collision.
The Obama administration hopes to put astronauts on a near-Earth asteroid by 2025 and possibly follow up such missions with manned Mars flights in the following decade. Seventy-eight million dollars has officially been set aside in the fiscal year 2014 budget for NASA to start development on the asteroid capture plan.
While NASA deemed Earth safe from having the massive 22 million ton asteroid Apophis smash into the planet in 2036, it didn’t rule out other smaller rocks from hurtling toward the planet. NASA’s science mission directorate associate administrator John Grunsfeld also spoke about the importance of the lasso mission at the Human to Mars Summit on Monday, according to U.S. News & World Report.
“We have a pretty good theory that single-planet species don’t survive,” he said. “We don’t want to test it, but we have some evidence of that happening 65 million years ago [when an asteroid killed much of Earth's life]. That will happen again someday … we want to have the capability [to leave the planet] in case of the threat of large scale destruction on Earth.”