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April 10, 2013

US Plans to Capture Asteroid

by Suzanne Presto

Asteroids were a topic of discussion in the U.S. capital Wednesday as NASA's chief unveiled the space agency's proposed budget for 2014 and lawmakers discussed space threats at a hearing on Capitol Hill.

The proposed fiscal year 2014 budget for the U.S. space agency remains largely steady at $17.7 billion.   

NASA chief Charlie Bolden says the space agency remains on track to meet President Barack Obama's challenge to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025.  Bolden highlighted a new, related mission in a teleconference Wednesday afternoon.

"NASA is using game-changing technologies advanced by the administration to develop a first-ever mission to identify, capture and retrieve an asteroid.  This mission raises the bar for human exploration and discovery, helps us protect our home planet and brings us closer to a human mission to an asteroid," Bolden said.

The aim is to capture and robotically redirect a small asteroid into orbit in the moon's vicinity.  Astronauts would visit the asteroid using NASA's Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft.  An unmanned test flight of the Orion craft is set for next year.  

Bolden said, in addition to utilizing and advancing technologies, the mission would inspire students who are interested in science and engineering.   
   
Meanwhile, the threat of asteroid strikes was the subject of a hearing on Capitol Hill. 

Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Objects Office, told lawmakers that 96-percent of all near-Earth objects were discovered through NASA-funded surveys of the skies.  He said while significant progress has been made in efforts to find and track asteroids, there is still work to be done to ensure the safety of the planet.

"Still undiscovered are 50 to 100 of the largest near-Earth asteroids and several thousand near-Earth asteroids larger than 140 meters.  In fact, there was a two kilometer -- a new, two-kilometer-sized asteroid -- that was announced today, so we still have a handful of large ones to find and several thousand of the smaller, 140-meter and larger [asteroids to find]," Yeomans said.  

Scientists say if a one-kilometer or larger asteroid were to strike, it could possibly end civilization.  

NASA says its found nothing of this size that poses a threat to our planet in the forseeable future.