NASA might try to bag an asteroid, make it orbit the Moon

Rick Sternbach/Keck Institute for Space Studies
Illustration of an Asteroid Return Mission developed in the 2011/2012 Asteroid Return Mission Study Program.

Most of the asteroids that we encounter pass by Earth without any cause for alarm because they’re so far away (in some cases they appear without any warning at all , so we don't have a chance to get freaked out about them). Now NASA is planning something that sounds slightly crazy: to catch an asteroid and literally drag it to the Moon’s orbit.

Researchers with the Keck Institute for Space Studies in California have confirmed that NASA is contemplating such a plan. The mission could be the very first part of a long-term project to put our astronauts on an Asteroid.

As far as we know, NASA's itinerary for upcoming space mission include orbiting the Moon with an Orion spacecraft. The Obama administration, however, has also announced that it wants to send astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid.

One of the best possible targets for landing on a space rock is an asteroid called 1999 AO10. A mission to intercept and land on the asteroid in question would take about six months of travel outside of Earth’s protective magnetic field.

Rather than exposing humans to a dangerous amount of radiation, NASA is proposing that we send a small spacecraft to place it into a stable orbit around the Moon. The spacecraft would intercept and grab the space rock with a bag (yep) that measures 10 meters by 15 meters. Once caught the spacecraft would drag it to the Moon’s gravity well over the course of six to ten years.

If the mission really in the works, it is expected to cost about $2.6 billion and could be completed by 2020.

Outrageous or feasible? Leave a comment.

[Keck Institute for Space Studies via New Scientist]

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