CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - Tucked inside President Barack Obama’s proposed federal budget for next fiscal year is about $100 million to jump start a program scientists say is the next step towards humans establishing a permanent settlement in space.
That, at least, is what U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson says we’re likely to see when the White House unveils its fiscal year 2014 budget around the middle of next week. Nelson has been briefed by scientists. And NASA's decision to ask for funding for the project was first reported by Aviation Week magazine in an article published last week.
In a nutshell, the plan in NASA’s hands calls for catching an asteroid with a robotic spacecraft and towing it back toward Earth, where it would then be placed in a stable orbit around the moon.
Next, astronauts aboard America’s Orion capsule, powered into space by a new monster rocket, would travel to the asteroid where there could be mining activities, research into ways of deflecting an asteroid from striking Earth, and testing to develop technology for a trip to deep space and Mars.
“This is part of what will be a much broader program,” Nelson said during a visit in Orlando, Florida. “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.”
It was Nelson (D-FL) with former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) who won passage in Congress in 2010 for funding plans to build a new monster rocket – called SLS pictured above - capable of carrying the Orion spacecraft and for or more astronauts out of low-Earth orbit and to the far side of the moon. The U.S. hasn’t had the ability to do what this new rocket will do - go far beyond low-Earth orbit and lift gigantic payloads - since 1972 and the end of the Apollo Moon program.
Now comes an audacious plan that would use the rocket in just eight years on a manned mission to the captured asteroid. A similar plan was first suggested last year by space experts at the California Institute of Technology. The institute was joined in preparing a detailed feasibility study by other institutes, think tanks, laboratories and universities, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Their jointly produced Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study suggests that bringing a 500-ton asteroid closer to Earth would give astronauts a “unique, meaningful and affordable” destination for the next decade.
Nelson said he thinks NASA’s plan is very similar and that President Obama favors it, as the president already has announced a goal of sending astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025. This plan would advance that date by four years to 2021.
“It would be mankind’s first attempt at modifying the heavens to enable the permanent settlement of humans in space,” scientists have said in the feasibility study.
Source: Senator Bill Nelson Media Release
Image Credit: NASA