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'Plymouth Rock' Human Mission To Asteroids

A human mission to a Near Earth Object - an asteroid - is under study by teams reporting to NASA. The round trip mission could take up to six months.

There would be no landing on the asteroid. Rather, they would park in close proximity, then jet backpack onto the object. Once there, science gear would be deployed as samples of the space rock are gathered on the order of a couple hundred pounds (100 kilograms).

"We assume staying at the asteroid for five days. They could stay a week or two. But staying for a month gets hard," Hopkins explained. While on duty, astronauts would engage in gathering data useful to understand the internal makeup of the asteroid. That, in turn, is solidly helpful, he added, in dealing with harmful space rocks on a worrisome trajectory dangerous to Earth.


(Manned Orion mission to a near Earth asteroid [Dan Durda / FIAAA])

Today, there are a handful of candidate asteroids that could be visited a couple decades from now, said Clark Chapman, an asteroid expert at Southwest Research Institute here in Boulder. That number will grow as more ground and space-based instruments come on-line, surely increasing the discovery rate of NEOs, he stated.

"We'd really like a larger pool of candidate targets so that we could visit a NEO that has cool properties and would have the greatest scientific return," Chapman told SPACE.com.

Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, in his 1939 short story Misfit, wrote about human missions to asteroids. In the story, young men without a trade were given another chance in the Cosmic Construction Corps. One job was to make a livable space habitat on selected asteroids.

He walked over by the lookouts at stereoscopes and radar tanks and peered up at the star-flecked blackness. Three cigarettes later the lookout nearest him called out.
"Light ho!"
"Where away?"
His mate read the exterior dials of the stereoscope. "Plus point two, abaft one point three, slight drift astern." He shifted to radar and added, "Range seven nine oh four three."
"Does that check?"
"Could be, Captain. What is her disk?" came the Navigator's muffled voice from under the hood.
The first lookout hurriedly twisted the knobs of his instrument, but the Captain nudged him aside. "I'll do this, son." He fitted his face to the double eye guards and surveyed a little silvery sphere, a tiny moon. Carefully he brought two illuminated cross-hairs up until they were exactly tangent to the upper and lower limbs of the disk. "Mark!"
The reading was noted and passed to the Navigator, who shortly ducked out from under the hood.
"That's our baby, Captain"
...McCoy forced them to lie down throughout the ensuing two hours. Short shocks of rocket blasts alternated with nauseating weightlessness. Then the blowers stopped and check valves clicked into their seats. The ship dropped free for a few moments -- a final quick blast -- five seconds of falling, and a short, light, grinding bump. A single bugle note came over the announcer, and the blowers took up their hum.

Take a look at these other asteroid-related stories:

  • Proposal To Move An Asteroid
    The B612 Foundation recently testified before a senate subcommittee regarding a "new" proposal to move an asteroid. What science fiction author proposed moving an asteroid over sixty years ago?
  • MADMEN Robot Swarm To Handle Incoming Asteroids?
    SpaceWorks Engineering, Inc. has completed a preliminary study for NASA in planetary defense against asteroid impactors.
Via Space.com.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/1/2009)

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