Back in 2010, President Obama unveiled a plan for putting astronauts on Mars by the mid 2030s. President Obama also set the intermediate goal of getting astronauts to an asteroid by 2025. This should be easy, right?
You see, before we send astronauts to Mars, we're going to bring an asteroid from deep space a little closer to home.
The asteroid capture and return spacecraft would go out to deep space, rendezvous with the asteroid, lasso it, stabilize it, bag it and tow it back into lunar orbit where astronauts would be able to visit and study it. Ideally, the asteroid would contain hydrated minerals, like water and oxygen, which would enable scientists to explore whether asteroids can be used as way stations for refueling and restocking during deep space travel. All this would take several years and even longer to come back.
Once the asteroid is in orbit around the moon, though, astronauts would be able to travel out to it in approximately nine days. Next stop, Mars!
- How It Works: NASA Astroid-Capture Mission in Pictures (Space.com)
- The Fact Sheet: Obama's Space Plan Revealed (Space.com)