NASA is requesting $100 million for a mission that would include identifying an asteroid in space, moving it towards the Moon, and sending astronauts to study it. It comes as the showdown over the 2014 budget continues in Washington.
The idea was born in 2011 at the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology. In the time since, Aviation Week and Space Technology reported, it has curried favor with the staff in the White House Office of Science and Technology.
Scientists have said enacting the plan in the next decade is within their grasp and would prove a smart investment for future endeavors by US engineers hoping to plunder asteroids with robotic mining for water and metals.
While NASA has requested $100 million, the Keck researchers admitted that the entire operation could cost as much as $2.6 billion and that it would take at least six years to harness an asteroid close enough to Earth. They speculated that as many as 20,000 pieces of space debris are within a feasible distance from Earth, although it could take astronauts as long as six months to travel there.
Two years after taking office, US President Barack Obama said he hoped to lay the groundwork for a mission to an asteroid by 2025 and a mission to Mars by the mid-2030s. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden remarked on Obama’s comments last December when he said the president “did not say NASA had to fly all the way to an asteroid. What matters is the ability to put humans with an asteroid.”
Bolden added the Obama administration has been in “relative silence” on the idea since election season, but space researchers reportedly have been at work on bold plans since he was voted in for a second term in November. Among the rumored ideas is a manned outpost on the Moon’s far side that would establish human activity in outer space and gather more research on an asteroid mission, according to Space.com.
NASA executives have not divulged much about their intentions, but hinted that a major announcement could be in the future if US politicians don’t get in the way.
“We recently delivered a comprehensive report to Congress outlining our destinations which makes clear that SLS (Space Launch System) will go way beyond low-Earth orbit and to explore the expansive space around the Earth-moon system, near-Earth asteroids, the moon, and, ultimately, Mars,” NASA deputy chief Lori Garver said last year.