Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NASA considering mission to send astronauts to asteroid

That's the rough target date NASA and space industry folks are eying for a mission to send astronauts to a Near Earth Object, aka an asteroid. Such a trip could be a stepping stone to Mars and extended stays on the moon, and guide plans to head off dangerous space rocks on a collision course with Earth, according to Space.com.

Lockheed Martin, builder of the next-generation Orion spacecraft, the U.S. space program's successor to the shuttle, has drawn up a “Plymouth Rock” plan for NASA touting the voyage as a way to gain a foothold outside low-Earth orbit. Powerful telescopes and beaming energy to Earth from space could be the eventual payoff.

The merits of a human mission to a Near Earth Object were detailed last week during a Boulder, Colo., meeting of the Small Bodies Assessment Group, established by NASA in 2008 to study asteroids, comets, interplanetary dust, small satellites and far-flung orbiters known as Trans-Neptunian Objects.

The plans are to be weighed by NASA and the White House, Paul Abell, a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute assigned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, told the Web site. "It's going to take a bit of time. I don't think there's going to be a quick decision."

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