MIT Spins New Tether For Walking on Asteroids
Diagram of the system for tethering an astronaut to an asteroid using circumferential ropes.
Credit: MIT/Ian Garrick-Bethell

MIT researchers have devised a tether to help astronauts walk across asteroids on future missions. The tether system would wrap all the way around the asteroid. This really adds a new dimension to the term "asteroid belt."

The MIT researchers, Christopher Carr and Ian Garrick-Bethell, anticipate that astronauts will find it difficult to work on the surface of an asteroid, due to the extremely low gravity. An asteroid one kilometer in diameter would have a surface gravity just 1/28000th that of the Earth; an astronaut could literally jump right off the asteroid and not come back down.

Once tethered, however, astronauts could walk across the surface in a more normal manner, and perform physical chores like digging a small hole or pulling objects from the surface more easily (see diagram).

The idea of wrapping a tether all the way around an asteroid may seem like an extreme solution. However, the loose composition of asteroids could make other strategies, like drilling or attaching a permanent "bolt" or other hardware to the surface, impossible to implement.

There has been an increase in interest in asteroid science and exploration in the last few years; the Dawn mission is trying to fly to Vesta and Ceres, the largest rocks in the solar system. NASA is also studying a manned mission to a Near Earth Object and even the possibility of using an asteroid as a radiation shield. Serious scientists have even proposed moving asteroids that will come too close to Earth. A circumferential tether could come in handy in the near future.

Carr and Garrick-Bethell are publishing their work in an upcoming issue of the journal Acta Astronautica.

Via MIT; find out more about asteroids.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of - where science meets fiction)