NASA plans to go grab and analyze a piece of rock from an asteroid.
On Wednesday, March 25, NASA revealed more details about the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) that will help the agency to better understand its capabilities for future deep space missions.
"The Asteroid Redirect Mission will provide an initial demonstration of several spaceflight capabilities we will need to send astronauts deeper into space, and eventually, to Mars," said associate administrator Robert Lightfoot.
"The option to retrieve a boulder from an asteroid will have a direct impact on planning for future human missions to deep space and begin a new era of spaceflight."
The agency will announce its selection of an asteroid for the mission in 2019, a year before the launch. NASA has to date selected three contenders: 2008 EV5, Itokawa and Bennu. It is expecting to identify a few more candidates over the next few years.
NASA is planning to launch an unmanned solar powered spaceship to a near-Earth asteroid in 2020. The spacecraft will have a robotic arm that will pluck a 13-foot boulder from the surface of the asteroid and push it into stable moon orbit. The unmanned solar-power craft will remain in outer space.
In the mid-2020s – when the small boulder has been successfully placed in moon orbit – NASA will launch the Orion crew capsule carrying two astronauts, which will dock itself to the spacecraft. The two astronauts will spend about 25 days there, conducting experiments and studying the boulder, taking spacewalks to collect samples of the rock to bring back.
NASA will use the ARM project to test new spacesuits for astronauts to use in deep space. Experts suggest the mission will be a big step in helping companies explore ideas about mining precious metals from asteroids. They expect the ARM project to help in the development of planetary defense methods. The mission may also enable space agencies to divert any major asteroid collisions with the Earth.