President’s 2014 Budget May Feature Asteroid Capture, Human Exploration
President Obama will likely seek Congressional endorsement for missions to robotically capture an asteroid and park the 500 ton space rock in a stable lunar orbit, where U. S. astronauts could pay a visit as early as 2021, according to U. S. Sen. Bill Nelson, of Florida, who chairs the Senate Science and Space Subcommittee, an oversight panel with jurisdiction over NASA.
Obama will seek $125 million to jump start the initiative as part of the 2014 fiscal year budget, which the president is scheduled to unveil on Wednesday.
The asteroid initiative would move up by four years the goal set by the president in 2010, when he directed NASA to prepare for a human asteroid mission by 2025 as a stepping stone to the exploration of the Martian environs a decade later.
It also follows the mid-February surprise explosion of a small asteroid in the skies overRussia. The blast wave sent more than a 1,000 to area hospitals with injuries. Later that same day, Feb. 15, a larger asteroid skimmed within 18,000 miles of the Earth. The two incidents prompted renewed calls from experts around the world to step up global efforts to identify and track Near Earth Objects that pose a collision threat.
A NEO collision about 65 million years ago, which impacted in theYucatan, is blamed for the extinction of the dinosaurs.
“This is part of what will be a much broader program,” Nelson said Friday, during a visit in Orlando, Fla., according to a statement from his Senate office. “The plan combines the science of mining an asteroid, along with developing ways to deflect one, along with providing a place to develop ways we can go to Mars.”
Nelson said the mission will require NASA’s Space Launch System, a new super rocket, and the Orion crew capsule, the cornerstones of a revived U. S.human deep space exploration capability. Nelson joined with Kay Bailey Hutchison, the recently retired U.S. Senator from Texas, in a bi-partisan push for the SLS and Orion work in 2010. The U. S. gave up that capability with its final Apollo moon mission in 1972.
Under NASA’s current planning, the Orion will undergo a key unpiloted test flight in 2014, launching aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket to assess the capsule’s flight controls and heat shielding. An unpiloted test flight of the Orion launched aboard a small version of the SLS would follow in 2017 and loop around the moon.
The Orion and as many as four astronauts, would launch aboard a full scale version of the SLS in 2021. The spacecraft and crew would loop around the moon, timing that would coincide with a proposed new mission to explore a captured asteroid.
In addition to the Orion and SLS capsule and rocket, NASA has been working on a space suits, deep space habits and multi-mission space exploration vehicles that could roll over the terrain of the moon or Mars or hover over low gravity objects like an asteroid with astronauts aboard or conducting spacewalks.
The strategy for robotically capturing an asteroid and moving it into lunar orbit was proposed in 2012 by experts from the Keck Institute for Space Studies, the California Institute of Technology and studies by other scientific and engineering think tanks.