In this NASA animation, we see their proposal to lasso an asteroid and bring it so that it enters the Moon's orbit, where it can be studied at leisure. There is no narration or sound, just raw animation.
The goal, according to NASA chief Charles Bolden, is to bring NASA one step closer to a continuing presence Mars. Yes, Mars:
"The ultimate thing … is to put boots on the ground on Mars, and that's not just to do a touch and go. It's to live there one of these days." Charles Bolden, March 26, 2014The idea is that having a robotic craft get an asteroid (which one is not decided, there are half a dozen choices) and bring it back would help ramp up the technology. It would allow NASA to test a propulsion system and provide some clues as the origins of the solar system. Bolden continued:
"We really make a big deal out of this [asteroid] initiative, but you should all understand, this is a tiny, tiny piece of getting humans to Mars. I don't want anybody to lose focus on that. The ultimate goal of this agency right now when it comes to human spaceflight is to put humans on Mars. That's hard. That is really hard. We need a proving ground to develop some of the technologies and everything else."The mission would work in one of two ways: 1) send a robot craft to an asteroid and take part of it, maybe a boulder, and bring it back; 2) send a robot craft and ensnare an entire small asteroid and bring it back. Let us hope that NASA's work on the hardware is as nice as their workup of this animation.
|Charles F. Bolden, Jr.|
Of course, there are a many other difficulties with going to Mars, not the least of which would be shielding humans from deadly cosmic rays. This asteroid mission would provide a testing ground for just part of that mission. It is the usual cautious go-slow NASA approach that works in the long run, though as John Maynard Keyes aptly noted in another context, in the long run we are all dead.
One thing is for certain, and that is that nothing is going to happen for some time. This whole project depends upon the Orion capsule and Space Launch System rocket. They are not scheduled for operation until 2021 at the earliest. Orion's first test flight is scheduled for some time in mid-2014, the earliest time for the capture and study itself is around 2025.
This is part of my continuing effort to demonstrate the many cool uses of animation beyond pure entertainment.