Selections from the article:
Call it Operation: Plymouth Rock. A plan to send a crew of astronauts to an asteroid is gaining momentum, both within NASA and industry circles.
Not only would the deep space sojourn shake out hardware, it would also build confidence in long-duration stints at the moon and Mars. At the same time, the trek would sharpen skills to deal with a future space rock found on a collision course with Earth.
In Lockheed Martin briefing charts, the mission has been dubbed "Plymouth Rock – An Early Human Asteroid Mission Using Orion." Lockheed is the builder of NASA's Orion spacecraft, the capsule-based replacement for the space shuttle.
Study teams are now readying high-level briefings for NASA leaders - perhaps as early as this week - on a pilgrimage to an asteroid, along with appraisals of anchoring large, astronaut-enabled telescopes far from Earth, a human precursor mission to the vicinity of Mars, as well as an initiative to power-beam energy from space to Earth.
The briefings have been spurred in response to the recent Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee and the option of a "Flexible Path" to human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.
The merits of a human mission to a Near Earth Object (NEO) were detailed here Nov. 18 during a two-day meeting of the Small Bodies Assessment Group, SBAG for short.
SBAG was established by NASA in 2008 to identify scientific priorities and opportunities for the exploration of asteroids, comets, interplanetary dust, small satellites, and Trans-Neptunian Objects. The group also provides scientific input on the utility of asteroids and comets in support of human space activities.
The new studies are viewed as an iterative process - to be weighed both by NASA and the White House, said Paul Abell, a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute detailed to the space agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and working in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate. "It's going to take a bit of time. I don't think there's going to be a quick decision."
How the White House will react to a human trek to an asteroid is beyond anybody's crystal ball. However, undertaking the effort has garnered the attention of Lockheed Martin - builder of the space shuttle replacement - the Orion spacecraft.
The Plymouth Rock mission study began a couple years ago, said Josh Hopkins, in the advanced programs for human space flight division at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company in Denver, Colo.
Initial looks at the NEO venture involve the coupling of two Orion spacecraft.
In this situation, a two-person Orion would link up with an unpiloted sister craft that's loaded with extra fuel, food, water, and oxygen. It would be tossed into orbit - as well as an Earth departure stage - by NASA's planned Ares V heavy-lift booster
"Plan for Human Mission to Asteroid Gains Speed"
23 November 2009
Link: Space.com article
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.
23 November 2009
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