NASA is hoping to launch a $100 million program that will allow them to robotically capture a small asteroid and bring it back to Earth’s vicinity within the next decade. Scientists want to use the asteroid in manned visits to learn more about the threat they pose and possible resources they provide.
The asteroid-retrieval project’s $100 million price tag will likely be a part of President Obama’s 2014 federal budget request.
"This is part of what will be a much broader program," Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said in a statement late Friday. "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."
Presenting an opportunity for international cooperation, this project will aid in the technologic advancement needed to, hopefully, get a human to the red planet. Manned flights to Mars will require research in navigation, rendezvous, and deep space operations.
Furthermore, the program could help us develop a way of defending the planet against asteroids. At the moment, the U.S. and other countries do not have the technology to detect small asteroids like the one that exploded over Russia this year.
On Mar. 19 at a House Committee hearing, NASA administrator Charles Bolden, Jr. was asked what could be done if a meteor hit somewhere in the United States. “Pray,” was his advice.
"I hope it goes forward," Rusty Schweickart, a former Apollo astronaut, told CBS News in a phone interview.
"Asteroids are a very, very interesting area," said Schweickart, who helped found the B612 Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the making of privately funded telescope to search for threatening asteroids. "They're a hell of a resource, and I think the potential for long-term resource development for use in space is going to be a very big thing.”
"I don't want people to spend their nights worrying about getting hit by asteroids. But I do want them to encourage their political leaders to invest in the insurance, which will allow us to prevent it from happening,” he added.
The plan is similar to one proposed by a study at the Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies.
"Experience gained via human expeditions to the small returned NEA would transfer directly to follow-on international expeditions beyond the Earth-moon system: to other near-Earth asteroids, [the Mars moons] Phobos and Deimos, Mars and potentially someday to the main asteroid belt," the Keck team in Pasadena wrote.
The Keck study estimated towing the 500-ton space rock would cost a total of $2.6 billion, much more than the current NASA budget.