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NASA Plans to Capture Asteroid to Study and Find Ways to Deflect

The President’s 2014 budget recommendations for NASA last week included money to capture and explore an asteroid in a mission that could someday help protect the earth from impact. Charles Fishburne of WCVE Public Radio talks with Dr. Michael Gazarik, Associate Director of the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate, about the purpose of the mission that may someday tame an asteroid headed towards earth. 

Charles Fishburne’s interview with Dr. Michael Gazarik and NASA animation.

One of the first questions Charles Fishburne asked Dr. Gazarik was, “Let’s just imagine I am watching an asteroid about the size of a house coming towards us...what exactly is the plan?” Dr. Gazarik explains NASA’s FY2014 budget proposal includes a plan to robotically capture a small near-Earth asteroid and redirect it safely to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system where astronauts can visit and explore it. “There is 105 million dollars in the budget to begin this ambitious project. It will utilize many systems and technologies already in place and it will depend upon development of high-powered solar propulsion systems and continued progress on the Space Launch System Rocket and the Orion Spacecraft.” The Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is responsible for developing the new technologies and capabilities needed to achieve this and future missions.

Performing the elements needed for the proposed asteroid initiative integrates the best of NASA’s science, technology and human exploration capabilities and draws on the innovation of America’s brightest scientists and engineers. As early as the 1970s, NASA examined potential ways to use existing hardware to visit an asteroid to better understand its characteristics. On the International Space Station, scientific investigations and technology demonstrations are improving knowledge of how humans can live and work in space. When they time comes and astronauts don their spacesuits and venture out for a spacewalk on the surface of an asteroid, how they move and take samples of it will be based on years of knowledge built by NASA scientists and engineers.

Currently NASA is developing capabilities to find both large asteroids that pose a hazard to Earth and small asteroids that could be candidates for the initiative. Dr. Gazarik states that “there is a lot of focus on planetary protection. There is money in the proposed budget to systematically look for and identify asteroids that might come our way.” He goes on to explain that part two of the project focuses on “our ability to navigate, rendezvous, attach to and understand asteroids to pave the way for larger targets in the future should we need to manipulate or move a larger object.”

More on the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD):
STMD rapidly develops revolutionary, high-payoff technologies through collaborative partnerships, expanding the boundaries of the aerospace enterprise. By investing in bold, broadly applicable, disruptive technology that industry cannot tackle today, STMD seeks to mature the technology required for NASA’s future missions in science and exploration while proving the capabilities and lowering the cost for other government agencies and commercial space activities.

Research and technology development takes place within NASA Centers, in academia and industry, and leverages partnerships with other government agencies and international partners. STMD engages and inspires thousands of technologists and innovators creating a community of our best and brightest working on the nation’s toughest challenges.

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