A $100 million line item in President Barack Obama’s proposed federal budget for next fiscal year could jump start a space project made all the more urgent by two close asteroid encounters from earlier in the year.
NASA plans to start work on a mission that will send astronauts to an asteroid in the next eight years. Scientists say the program is the next step toward humans colonizing space. Call it “manifest galaxy.”
“The plan calls for a robotic spacecraft to capture an asteroid and tow it to a stable orbit around the moon,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
Scientists would study the asteroid and, ultimately, begin to mine it while researching ways to deflect future asteroids, like one that hit Russia earlier in the year.
There are also plans to test and begin developing technology for deep space trips, like one to Mars.
Nelson, along with former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) helped secure congressional funding two years ago to build a new monster rocket capable of carrying the Orion spacecraft and a handful of astronauts out of low-Earth orbit and to the far side of the moon. That's something the U.S. hasn’t been able to do since 1972 and the end of the Apollo moon program.
Under the president’s budget, that same rocket program would become the vehicle to send an eight-year, manned mission, to the captured asteroid. A similar plan was first suggested last year by space experts at the California Institute of Technology.
Private efforts to capture and study asteroids are already underway. Companies like Deep Space Industries, started by former NASA officials, and another group called Planetary Resources, are at work on the task.
The U.S. space mission has focused its efforts on long-range programs like the asteroid-surface landing and getting to Mars in recent years, after Congress cut off funding for the shuttle program, which routinely carried astronauts into lower-Earth orbit and toward the International Space Station.
The program sounds quite similar to the premise of the 1998 movie "Armageddon."