NASA mission to capture near-Earth asteroid for study

The mission to bag an asteroid could happen as soon as 2021, paving the way for sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

NASA has released an animation of an ambitious project that includes capturing a near-Earth asteroid and sending astronauts into space to study it.

To see an animation of the mission, watch a video on YouTube.

While it sounds like science fiction, U.S. President Barack Obama has added the asteroid initiative to his fiscal year 2014 budget request. He initially announced plans for the mission in April 2010 and it could be executed as early as 2021.

The near-Earth asteroid would first be robotically captured in a maneuver akin to throwing a bag over something. The mission would seek an asteroid that is 7-10 meters in diameter, weighing about 500 tons.

From Earth a team of astronauts would blast off in an Orion spacecraft atop a heavy lift rocket. Once in space, the crew would set off on a nine-day journey to the asteroid, which would include a slingshot maneuver, or what's called a lunar gravity assist, around the moon to gain speed toward the target asteroid.

After carefully docking the spacecraft with the robotic capture vehicle, astronauts would don space suits and begin a space walk towards the asteroid. After lifting one of the covers on the material surrounding the asteroid, the team would collect rock and soil samples that would be analyzed later on Earth.

Once the team undocked from the capture vehicle, Orion would complete another lunar gravity assist on the trip home.

The mission is still in the very early planning stages and NASA will host a technical workshop at the end of September to discuss potential approaches. The asteroid mission is one step in the agency's strategy to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

The mission is somewhat reminiscent of the 1998 blockbuster action movie "Armageddon" where Bruce Willis has to land on an asteroid to save Earth from the rock's deadly path. Among the real life goals of the asteroid initiative is, in fact, protecting Earth in addition to advancing technologies for human space flight and learning how to utilize space resources.

Nick Barber covers general technology news in both text and video for IDG News Service. E-mail him at Nick_Barber@idg.com and follow him on Twitter at @nickjb.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags popular scienceNASArobotics

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Nick Barber

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?