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NASA Space Science

NASA Planning Mission To 40-Meter-Wide Asteroid 205

FudRucker points out a story from The Guardian about NASA's plans to visit 2000SG344, an asteroid 40 meters wide and weighing roughly 71 million kilograms. The manned mission would take three to six months, and it would make use of the Orion spacecraft, which will be replacing to retiring space shuttle fleet. "A report seen by the Guardian notes that by sending astronauts on a three-month journey to the hurtling asteroid, scientists believe they would learn more about the psychological effects of long-term missions and the risks of working in deep space, and it would allow astronauts to test kits to convert subsurface ice into drinking water, breathable oxygen and even hydrogen to top up rocket fuel. All of which would be invaluable before embarking on a two-year expedition to Mars. As well as giving space officials a taste of more complex missions, samples taken from the rock could help scientists understand more about the birth of the solar system and how best to defend against asteroids that veer into Earth's path."
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NASA Planning Mission To 40-Meter-Wide Asteroid

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  • by l2718 ( 514756 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @02:18AM (#23346956)
    NASA plans a large number of missions but political considerations affect their budget so much that I wouldn't bet this is going to happen, no matter how cool it sounds. Right now, Mars is officially high on the agenda, so stepping-stones toward Mars are hot. In 5 years the next administration might decide to take the unmanned direction and this will go to the back burner. For the moment this should be thought of as contingency planning.
    • by markov_chain ( 202465 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @02:37AM (#23347048) Homepage
      What if they can't convince Bruce Willis to come along?
    • Actually, it's only really the moon that's high on the agenda. There's still a hell of a load of things to solve before we can think of going to mars, and we haven't got a clear roadmap of how to do it.
      • There's still a hell of a load of things to solve before we can think of going to mars, and we haven't got a clear roadmap of how to do it.
        Care to share some numbers/facts mr. obvious?
      • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @09:46AM (#23349170) []

        This is proposed back in 1990, and was deemed to be a viable plan for going forward with technology we had at that time. As with all missions, we don't know the SPECIFICS (as in, we don't have blueprints of the craft to take us), but if we had those we'd probably already be on the way there now. There are enough sound plans out there that I'm sure if funding were approved for the mission, we'd be able to do it. The problem though, is not in solving problems, getting a clear roadmap, or whatnot. The problem is in getting the government to simply lay down the funding so we can go.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by huckamania ( 533052 )
          I'm much more excited about nasa going to an asteroid then going to Mars. We're decades, if not centuries away from being able to do anything useful with Mars except deny/confirm that it was once much, much nicer. Currently, it is a frozen sand trap that just happens to occupy an orbit between the Earth and the belt.

          That nasa is even asking for plans made my whole day. Sam Gunn would be proud.
          • It would be more feasible to build a sustained outpost in the asteroid belt - probably using a large asteroid as the outer structure - than to truly built something that can sustain human life on the surface of mars.

            Plus, you don't have to worry about that pesky gravity stuff.
            • There are asteroids between the Earth and Mars, but you're still correct. If we do get off this rock, the belt will be a good destination.
  • And hopes that this happens. Personally, this is 'Cool shit' (tm) and I hope that this does eventualy.

    Perhaps they could shave off some of that 3 Million slated for NASA MMO [] and slosh it towards this. Lets face it, a 3 Million dollar game would look like a uni science project, but it might get put to some sort of use here at least.
    • Lets face it, a 3 Million dollar game would look like a uni science project,
      I don't get it.

      Are you saying that a group of 5-10 university students, working for a semester, maybe a year, should be paid a total of 3 million dollars? That's at least some $300k each, for those not keeping track.

      Or are you saying that a group of 5-10 university students, working for a semester or a year, would outperform the kind of development you could actually hire for 3 million?
      • I suspect the $3M includes materials costs as well as salaries. Material costs tend to be rather high in a lot of science research fields (what does the electricity bill look like for a high-energy particle accelerator?)
    • Lets face it, a 3 Million dollar game would look like a uni science project, but it might get put to some sort of use here at least.

      This is a NASA run manned space mission. $3 million might stretch to the toilet paper, with maybe enough left over to buy a holder for it.
  • by ThreeGigs ( 239452 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @02:52AM (#23347086)
    Okay, so it's really really big. But not "too" big. And it just happens to be in an orbit that's very close to earth's orbit around the sun. So I'm guessing that with the right nudges at the right times, it'd be possible to swing that rock around the moon and park it in orbit around the earth. And having a million tons of raw material in orbit is something that both makes more sense than a manned landing, and is a lot more interesting and exciting, to me at least.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by m95lah ( 55920 )
      Well, that sounds cool.

      But what I would really like is for someone to work out roughly how much energy this would take.
      More or less than all nukes on earth, for example?
      • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:21AM (#23347202)

        It's got 1.37 km/s hyperbolic excess velocity, and on an orbit that damn near intersects ours. That means it takes a little more than 1370 m/s of delta-v to perform the capture. At 7.1E7 kg, that's about 6.6E13 joules -- approximately 15kt TNT equivalent worth of energy.

        Assuming a high performance LOX/Methane engine, it would need about 34kt of propellant (rockets are inefficient for delta-v low relative to exhaust velocity). Note that this is a significant proportion of the asteroid mass. To make it economical, you'd need something more exotic -- a mass drive throwing bits of asteroid, or a high performance solar-electric ion drive, for example.

        • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:57AM (#23347368) Homepage Journal

          a mass drive throwing bits of asteroid, or a high performance solar-electric ion drive, for example.
          To do that you need a sample of the asteroid, so you know what kind of reaction mass you are dealing with. I think it would be possible to install the engine on the second close pass, assuming a good examination on the first pass.
        • by kvezach ( 1199717 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @05:12AM (#23347700)

          To make it economical, you'd need something more exotic -- a mass drive throwing bits of asteroid, or a high performance solar-electric ion drive, for example.
          Or the other Orion [].
        • Anyone know enough to see if there is a chance of using the moon's gravity to assist the capture?
        • by BobMcD ( 601576 )
          You're overlooking a teensy-weensy problem: We still do not fully understand the effects our single moon has on this planet. Adding another could be devastating.

          There are obvious concerns:

          A) Tides
          B) Changes to the orbits of the Earth and Moon1
          C) Possible climate change due to the Moon2's shadow, etc

          Then there are the more mysterious:

          A) Does the full moon impact human behavior? If so, what would two such moons do? (
          B) Is it mere coincidence that lunar cycles and o
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by AshtangiMan ( 684031 )
            I'm reading that as partial toungue in cheek, but even if it is not you might get a kick out of the TC Boyle short story where a US president (future, unspecified) looking for something to bring the country together had a new moon installed (the old one was dingy). Anyway the new one was much brighter than the old, and at its unveilling people began to exhibit some strange behavior (trying not to spoil it just in case . . . ).
          • by Gilmoure ( 18428 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @10:46AM (#23350022) Journal
            It's 40 m across. It's smaller in size than the space shuttle or the ISS. You'd need to be outside of most urban zones to even see it, assuming they put it in LEO. If it was set orbiting the moon, good luck spotting it with nekkid eye. As for gravitational effects on your cycles, I think a garbage truck down the street would have more effect on you.
          • A) Tides B) Changes to the orbits of the Earth and Moon1 C) Possible climate change due to the Moon2's shadow, etc
            It would take about 10^15 of these asteroids to get something near our Moon's mass. Climate change due to its shadow? You're afraid that half an hour of darkness maybe twice a year will change our climate? Besides, it's 70 meters wide
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Eternauta3k ( 680157 )
              *reads title*
              Make that 40 meters You probably wouldn't be able to see it without a telescope. Hell, I think ISS is bigger than that.
      • by 7Prime ( 871679 )
        At 40m? No way. Yes, for a convensional rocket engine, it would be a waste of energy, but a couple of brute force explosions should be able to send the beast in a particular direction, and then use some more precise explosions or a rocket engine to steer the rock. 40m of rock pales in comparison to the earth that a single mining operation can detonate in a day.

        Remember, explosives aren't really all that expensive, but mechanisms for doing it controlably (like in a rocket engine) are very costly. Nukes are f
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by camperdave ( 969942 )
      No, forget the rock. What you want to capture is a comet. We need water and oxygen in space far more than we need silicates and iron. I propose making a really big zip-loc bag and slipping it over a comet. As the comet outgasses, the bag fills up. By venting in the right direction at the right time, you might be able to push the comet into a friendlier orbit, and voila, millions of cubic metres of propellant, oxygen and water.
      • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *
        Potato, potato. Most everything we know about comets suggests they are the thing is asteroids.. they just happen to have the oxygen and the hydrogen embedded in them in different ways. Extracting oxygen from an asteroid isn't all that hard. Extracting iron from a comet, might just well be.

        • Originally, they may all have been the same, but asteroids, because of their proximity to the sun, have had all their volatiles boiled off. If a comet is a dirty snowball, an asteroid is what you get left over when you boil off all the "snow".

          As far as ease of extraction of oxygen, hydrogen, etc. It is far, far, far easier to simply melt/boil the frozen gas, than to unbind the oxygen from the silicon in the rocks. Granted, extracting iron from a comet may be next to impossible, but the fact of the matt
          • > Spacecraft hulls are made of aluminum, titanium, and composite materials. There is very little iron.

            That's because spacecraft hulls currently have to be hauled out of a steep gravity well, and mass costs money. So they use flimsy, lightweight materials. If the stuff is already up there and need only be refined, then you could use whatever you wanted. For structural components, I'd take steel over aluminum any day of the week, thank you very much.

            But yes, definitely need a comet with light elements a
    • by afaik_ianal ( 918433 ) * on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:40AM (#23347292)
      The actual object is only 71,000 tonnes, not 1.1 million tonnes as claimed by TFA.

      The energy of any possible collision with Earth is "1.1 million tons of TNT", which is about 4.6 petajoules. I expect the energy required to pull it into orbit would be in that order of magnitude, as you'd basically be trying to slow the thing down as it got near us.

      I'm not sure how you many nukes it would take to apply that much kinetic energy to an object in space, but the biggest nukes can release in the order of 2 petajoules of heat.

      I'm not sure that I'd want an object that size -- without any means of correcting its orbit -- hovering over my house though.
      • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Friday May 09, 2008 @04:54AM (#23347610) Journal
        Well, if we can slow it down that much, I'd imagine we could use the same tricks to correct its orbit.

        Somehow, I'm not that bothered by it -- how much does the moon weigh? It's often over your house, right?
      • I'm not sure that I'd want an object that size -- without any means of correcting its orbit -- hovering over my house though.

        Which is exactly why I could see some people pushing for it. We'd just have to make sure that when an "Industrial Accident []" happened, breaking it up, the debris fell on [] OTHER [] countries. []

      • by evanbd ( 210358 )
        No, the energy to stop it is far less, since it's on an orbit very similar to ours. Most of the impact energy comes from it falling down Earth's gravity well. The number you want is the hyperbolic excess velocity, ie the speed it would have at impact if the Earth's gravity had no effect (roughly). See my other post for numbers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Joebert ( 946227 )
      I can allready see the look of confusion on the faces of horoscope readers everywhere.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I offer the much better idea of nudging the asteroid so that it falls into a stable orbit between Mars and the Earth.

      Then each time it comes round, regular trips from the Earth could stock it with food, water and air, as well as building long-term habitation. It would then become a 'Mars Bus', able to shift lots of material, as well as all the Mars tourists/colonists who will want to go.

      And I haven't even patented this concept. Perhaps it's because I am from the UK and not American?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by argStyopa ( 232550 )
      You want the same crew that accidentally converted from Imperial to Metric to be responsible for redirecting something this size toward earth? You do understand that an orbital calculation is a very fine thing, in a sense you're shooting not simply at a target, but to intentionally MISS the target by a hairsbreadth at a specific speed and time?

      "...a lot more interesting and exciting..." indeed.
  • Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aitikin ( 909209 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @02:54AM (#23347096)
    So that's why they were wondering about the effects of staying in bed for 90 days! []
  • Hopefully (Score:5, Funny)

    by Strange Ranger ( 454494 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:08AM (#23347152)
    Hopefully through their all research, hard work, and bravery they'll finally discover
    what it's like to go out one side of the screen and come back in the other.
  • Yes, I know the referenced material quotes the weight in kilograms.

    However, when writing an article, is it too hard to call it 71,000 tons (or tonnes, or "metric" tons - they're all essentially the same unit - with a percent or two)

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by afaik_ianal ( 918433 ) *
      Interestingly, TFA incorrectly says the asteroid is 1.1 million tonnes. They seem to be confused with the energy of any potential impact, as measured in tons of TNT.

      I don't know about you, but I get a little concerned when science reporters get stuff like that wrong.
      • In truth... (Score:2, Insightful)

        When the reporters start getting stuff right I start getting worried.
        Any time I read anything in the press that I personally know about, I dispair at just how far wrong the reporters are.
        It's the little things, like an order of magnitude here or there. We say 10,000 they say 100,000 what's a 0 between friends.
        So I assume that anything I read is little more than an vague approximation of the truth.
        I'm not even getting all tin hat.
        Think Hanlon's Razor..
        Never attribute to malice that which can be
  • Finally! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Erpo ( 237853 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:17AM (#23347178)
    Unmanned missions may be cheaper and safer, but sending out real people to expand the horizons of human activity in space is much more important. It gets people excited! That brings in money and inspires young people.

    Then, when NASA has a huge group of talented experts and tons of cash, they can do real science instead of worrying every day about whether the budget will get slashed before they can complete the current round of experiments.
    • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Haoie ( 1277294 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @04:06AM (#23347416)
      Yes, but think of the vast, vast differences in cost.

      No pun intended, it's astronomically different.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by rubenerd ( 998797 )

        You're right, they shouldn't have sent people to the moon, it was too expensive. Think of all the money they could have saved if they sent a few robots up there.

        I'm sure Rosie [] would have loved to volunteer!

        • Re:Finally! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by 2short ( 466733 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @11:33AM (#23350738)
          "Think of all the money they could have saved if they sent a few robots up there."

          They could have sent thousands of robots.

          We've got two rovers operating on Mars for years for a fraction of the price it costs to send one human to the IIS in low Earth orbit. There's no question the robots get you more science for your buck, all the humans cling to is that they are better PR, but I wonder if that's true anymore? Here's a test: Without looking it up, think of the names of those rovers on Mars. Now think of the names of the current ISS inhabitants. You're paying hundreds of times as much for every day the ISS inhabitant is there.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Erpo ( 237853 )
            Now think of the names of the current ISS inhabitants.

            Just being in orbit isn't cool anymore. That's why missions like the one in this story are important.

            There's no question the robots get you more science for your buck

            The problem is that if you don't have enough bucks, you can't do much science. Manned missions, on the other hand, get you more buck for your buck.
          • Of course robots are cheaper. They aren't able to do 1/100th of what a single human being could manage. Even something as simple as, "flip over that rock and see what's on the bottom" is beyond it.
  • Wrong Orion (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stjobe ( 78285 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:52AM (#23347344) Homepage

    it would make use of the Orion spacecraft
    Too bad it's the wrong Orion []. Would have been a hell of a lot cooler if it was a project Orion spacecraft instead of a souped up Apollo capsule.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Hmm. I don't know about "Cooler".

      Project Orion is a pretty incredible concept, and I think the odds are good that something like it will get built eventually if high-tech civilisation doesn't collapse first. (Nuclear thermal rocketry [] is another idea that perhaps deserves revisiting.)

      However: using either of these drives as a means of getting off the Earth's surface is utter madness. The last thing we need is more unshielded bare-atmosphere nuclear detonations. I'm no anti-nuclear activist, but there's a hel
  • by freedom_india ( 780002 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @04:29AM (#23347506) Homepage Journal
    Would somebody *please* think of the children???
    I mean if NASA goes on spending recklessly on such projects, who is going to feed the poor kids in Iraq, and not to mention upcoming Iran, Syria and N.Korea (although in this case it would be radioactive S.Korean kids).
    NASA is just literally throwing money away to send 2 girls and 1 man away for tax-payer-funded jaunts to the ultimate holiday-spot: Asteriod!
    I say we snatch NASA's budgets and feed it to Cheney; er sorry, Halliburton so that they could prosecute this devastating War to its conclusion.
    Of all the daring, reckless things NASA can do, this rates the 3rd worst: The first was the Hubble-Schubble telescope thingy that NASA claims can take photos 130 million light-years away, but can't take photos of my Pet Cat! I mean who wants to look into the past 130 million years ago? Didn't God say he created Earth 6,000 years ago?
    Secondly they sent TWO stupid rovers to Mars and cheer loudly when their rovers cross 6 mph speed. I mean, come on. My Hummer easily tops at 112 mph on a Texas village road! Who the hell needs photos from Mars, when the money can be spent to 'assist' JP Morgan and Citibank so that the poor executives can support their children at harvard? Plus Mars has no oil or CNG. Atleast Venus and Europa have oil.
    Thirdly now this stupid honeymoon jaunt for 3 months!!!
    • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @04:59AM (#23347640)
      Ranting aside, asteroid landing is pretty important if we're going to take advantage of the iron, other metals, and energy available to space travel. Solar mirrors have to be made out of something: the entire fossil and nuclear energy demands of this planet can be provided with a fairly modest set of solar mirrors. Even if you think it's unsafe or a military issue to beam the energy down to Earth, there's enough manufacturing of toxic materials and especially of cumputer chips and crystalline structures that would benefit from operating in orbit instead of on the ground, where it's more idfficult and expensive to control temperature, maintain purity, control temperature, and avoid gravitic problems in the formation of crystalliine or porous materials.

      Asteroid visits are a wonderful step towards the industrial use of space, far more effective and useful than a Mars mission. Do the Mars mission after we have a working space station that can build things, and a reliable supply line to it.

      • NASA needs a Karl Rove.
        NASA has some wonderful ideas and good planning. Unfortunately they miss the funding.
        I bet EU does it or even China will do it for prestige.
        Our politicians hate spending money on NASA primarily because none of their pet industries where they have interests benefit from it.
        Take for instance the rovers's lenses. None of our politicians has any remote interest in any company that makes mirrors and lenses.
        So why would they fund?
        The trick for NASA is to market itself as benefitting the pol
    • by Gilmoure ( 18428 )
      Dude, if they send up two chicks and a dude, they can recoup the costs within a week by setting up a pr0n site with the footage. After that, it'll all be over the torrents.
  • Landing... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TrevorB ( 57780 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @05:30AM (#23347772) Homepage
    Just a technical note. With an asteroid this tiny, you don't land on it, you dock with it. The gravity will be practically non-existent.

    Probably best to go nose first, nose down. Then you'll be able to see it so you don't hit it so hard.

  • Solar Flare shelter? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @06:01AM (#23347916) Journal
    Does anyone who knows anything about solar physics know whether or not you could use a small body like this as a solar flare shelter? If you are in deep space or in a hard-to-change orbit around a large body (like the moon), if a solar flare happens you're out of luck. If you're on the surface of a body with little or no atmosphere I guess you're still out of luck. But with a small body like this could you just zip to the side in the shadow? Could this make long-term trips like this safer than say going to the moon?

    The idea is reminiscent of an Arthur C. Clarke story about a trip to Icarus.

    On a more sinister note, while the delta-V for CAPTURE of this body around earth might be prohibitive using todays technology, what about for IMPACT? Not the U.S. would want to do such an obvious war provoking act but wondering if it could be done with just chemical propellants. Of course it depends on how far in advance you have to alter the course, orbital parameters etc.

    Now if we were really good at orbital mechanics we could possibly have it skim the atmosphere to lose some delta-v for capture. Don't think anyone's gonna try that though.
    • No, I don't mean by causing a nuclear winter through an impact. Instead how about putting it into a "halo" orbit where it circles (in a halo) between earth and sun. (As a previous poster indicated, it'll take something like like 1.37km/s delta-v, you'll need a mass driver/ion engine or something like that. Then, with a solar powered grinder, take the asteroid which may already be largely rubble and make it into a powder, spewing it slowly into space (with a 1.5cm/s escape velocity it'll be hard not to).
      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        That's bad form. A lot of debris will render that Lagrange point useless for any other activity including most rival methods for shading Earth from that location. While mitigating a bad case of global warming might warrant such a drastic approach, it'd be better to implement something that you have a lot of control over.
  • We must drink poisonous wine to slake our thirst.
    In the book Titan by Stephen Baxter there is a similar mission.
    • Also, as in Titan, maybe they should use an old Shuttle to get there. Who wants to spend 6 months in a cramped Apollo-like capsule?
      • by sconeu ( 64226 )
        They didn't use a Shuttle in Titan. Columbia's destruction was the trigger. They took all the remaining extant Saturn V's and used them.
  • I wonder ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LaughingCoder ( 914424 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @07:45AM (#23348350)
    ... what will be the affect of the next election on NASA and NASA's budget. According to this chart ( []), it looks like Democrats tend to roll back NASA's budget whereas Republicans tend to increase it, ignoring of course the Apollo years (arguably that money was looked at as Cold War defense expenditures, not space program expenses). To summarize the chart, during the Carter years, NASA's inflation-adjusted budget went down. During the Reagan years it went up a little. During Bush I it went up dramatically, and then it went down quite a bit during the Clinton (I?) years. During Bush II it also went up a little. Now what will happen should a) Obama b) Clinton II c) McCain become the next president? My guess would be a) down a lot, b) down a little, c) up a little.
    • McCain says he wants to cut taxes and spending dramatically.

      If he's like the last three Republican Presidents, he'll cut the taxes and never get around to cutting the spending... until China stops lending.

      McCain's tax cuts amount to basically all non defense discretionary spending. So NASA wouldn't fare so well.

  • by LotsOfPhil ( 982823 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @09:34AM (#23349046)
    The escape velocity on this asteroid is 1.5 cm/s. Yes, centimeters. One small step for man, one giant trajectory for that same man.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus