One of NASA's most audacious plans for the future is a mission to capture an asteroid and tug it back near Earth within the reach of astronaut explorers. This proposal is illustrated in captivating new detail in a series of images and video released by NASA Thursday (Aug. 22).
The new asteroid mission concept photos from NASA show how the plan would play out in detail. For example, the animations show how a robotic spacecraft could initially lasso in the asteroid and contain it within a giant "asteroid capture bag."
The mission is part of NASA's goal to find and study the space rocks near Earth, including those that may pose an impact danger to our planet. The plan was outlined under President Obama's 2014 budget request.
After the initial robotic spacecraft flight, the human crew would travel in an Orion spacecraft, a deep-space capsule NASA is currently developing. Orion should be able to make the trip from Earth to the captured asteroid, which would be parked in an orbit close to the moon's, in about nine days.
One of the new images shows the two-person crew spacewalking toward the asteroid using a long pole called a translation boom. Another picture shows an astronaut exploring the asteroid by holding on to some of the many rings placed all over the asteroid capture bag to provide handholds. Astronauts will plan to collect rock samples from the asteroid bring them back to Earth for study inside a lab.
NASA's plans to refine its vision for the asteroid mission during a workshop to be held Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. There, agency officials will discuss asteroid mission ideas submitted by researchers and the public with the scientific community to capitalize on the science potential of the mission.