This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.

22 June 2008

More Backgound on Study from Some Within NASA for a Human Mission to An Asteroid using Constellation Elements

More background on the study by some within NASA for a human mission to an asteroid...selections from the article...

The B612 Foundation proposes a rendezvous with a space rock for weeks or months, during which the robot spacecraft would act as a “gravity tractor,” using its own minuscule gravitational pull to tug the asteroid onto a new course. While B612 spread its message, Ed Lu went on to spend six months aboard the International Space Station. Three months after his return to Earth, in January 2004, the Bush administration announced its Vision for Space Exploration, an ambitious call to send astronauts beyond Earth orbit for the first time since 1972. While NASA set up Constellation and began focusing on the lunar return, targeted for 2020, Lu and the Asteroid Underground quietly pondered other possibilities.

“When NASA unveiled the concepts of the Ares I and V launch vehicles and [the] Orion [crew capsule],” remembers Lu, “I started wondering, ‘Hey, we have these rockets at our disposal. What else can we do?’ ”

By the summer of 2006, Lu, Tom Jones, and Dave Korsmeyer, an engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center who specializes in celestial mechanics, were conferring regularly with more than a dozen colleagues around the country, asking about the capabilities of Constellation and writing papers. NASA agreed to fund a feasibility study through its Advanced Projects Office that would examine how to use the Orion and Ares hardware to send people to a near-Earth asteroid. Korsmeyer managed the group. After many phone calls and e-mails among the 17 members of the study team, the first meeting took place at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in August 2006. Subsequent gatherings, about one per month, were convened at various NASA centers around the country. By the end of the year, the group had come to the conclusion that NASA’s new hardware could in fact carry humans to a NEO.

In the Asteroid Underground, [Bob] Farquhar is something of an elder statesman and is known for his outspokenness. Having taken part in a recent feasibility study for the International Academy of Astronautics that looked at different options for moving beyond Earth orbit, he doesn’t like the idea of making do with existing Constellation hardware for a stripped-down asteroid mission. “You’d need a transfer vehicle,” he says. “Something big and roomy. And you don’t want it in low Earth orbit all the time.” Instead, he would park an interplanetary, or inter-asteroidal, transfer vehicle at the L2 libration point, about a million miles outside Earth’s orbit, where the gravitational pulls of the sun and Earth are balanced. The transfer vehicle would pick up the crew members in Earth orbit, take them to an asteroid (or, someday, Mars), and then, at journey’s end, return them to Earth orbit.

Dave Korsmeyer has been optimistic about NASA’s interest in asteroids ever since he briefed Constellation manager Jeff Hanley on his study group’s findings in February 2007. “Hanley said, ‘This is great!’ He said the best thing for us to know is that this [Constellation] architecture goes to more than one place instead of just ’round the block.

“Every month since, we’ve been giving a briefing to someone, and not because we’re pushing it. They’re asking for it.” A more detailed study, he says, may be forthcoming.

Rob Landis, a member of the study group with experience in mission control, says, “Apollo 8 was never intended to go to the moon. But NASA said, ‘What if we go anyway?’ That was a huge, quantum leap. I’d say that an asteroid mission is the Apollo 8 of the next generation—before jumping off to Mars, before dipping our toes deeper in that cosmic ocean.”

"The Million Mile Mission: A small band of believers urges NASA to take its next step—onto an asteroid."
Michael Klesius
Air & Space Magazine
01 July 2008

Link: Air & Space Magazine Article

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