NASA Considers Dragging Asteroids to the Moon

NASA Considers Dragging Asteroids to the Moon

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The Keck Institute for Space Studies wants an asteroid orbiting the moon as early as next decade.

When most of us think of asteroids, we probably imagine massive death rocks hurtling through space to threaten our world and our lives. When scientists think about asteroids, however, it's not always about how Bruce Willis could best blow them up to an Aerosmith soundtrack. Asteroids hold a great deal of scientific potential, but with our limitations on space travel, it's exceedingly difficult to reach them and complete the necessary research. What's a rocket scientist to do? There's one surprisingly sensible solution: if NASA can't get to the mountain, bring the mountain to NASA. Or more specifically, drag it into orbit around the moon.

NASA is currently considering a plan put together by the Keck Institute for Space Studies to literally drag a small asteroid into high lunar orbit. The plan, if implemented, would begin by sending a slow-moving, robotic craft to a target asteroid approximately seven meters wide. After making some final calculations, the craft would catch the asteroid in a 10 by 15 meter bag and return to a high lunar orbit. The Keck Institute believes this project could be completed relatively easily by the 2020s, and would cost approximately $2.6 billion, only slightly more than the Curiosity Mars rover project.

There are actually quite a few benefits to the Keck Institute's plan. The Obama administration has previously expressed interest in exploring near-Earth asteroids, but the required long-term mission would place teams well beyond the reach of any rescue. Bringing space rocks back home would provide all the scientific benefits of an asteroid mission without putting lives in immediate jeopardy. Having a handy orbiting asteroid could also have applications for scientists learning how to extract minerals and fuel, which might set the stage for future exploration missions to Mars and beyond. And if something were to go wrong, an asteroid seven meters wide is nowhere near the planet-killer size that scientists usually keep an eye out for.

It will still be at least a decade before this plan bears fruit, if it's implemented at all, so we can't say for sure what will happen. Even so, a future in which asteroids orbit our moon, and are frequently visited by humans? That's a pretty cool future to imagine, whether or not we have our jetpacks by then.

Source: New Scientist, via The Verge

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Inb4 "yo dawg"

I think if NASA went through with it this will be exiting to every hobby astronomer. Although 7m is pretty small. How about redistributing 10% of the US military budget to NASA so we can catch us another proper moon?

Still though, on the extremely off chance it does hit a major population center it could cause quite a few deaths. Extremely extremely off chance it could land on me but that'd be a kickass way to go.

Quaxar:
Inb4 "yo dawg"

I think if NASA went through with it this will be exiting to every hobby astronomer. Although 7m is pretty small. How about redistributing 10% of the US military budget to NASA so we can catch us another proper moon?

10%?
How about every nation on earth gives 1% of their GDP each year to a new international space agency.
Imagine what we could achieve!

OT:
So.. They want to give the moon a moon?
Interesting.

i always thought they set up a base on mars, mine asteroids in the nearby asteroid belt and fling them toward mars so they can be scavenged after inpact on mars surface.

but asteroids surrounding the moon sound like they have seen too much Planetary Annihilation footage
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and this endevour has a lot of "we fucked it up" potential.

Aught to be feasible, I mean seven meters is 3 and a half womp rats. Our computers could target that right?

Quaxar:
Inb4 "yo dawg"

I think if NASA went through with it this will be exiting to every hobby astronomer. Although 7m is pretty small. How about redistributing 10% of the US military budget to NASA so we can catch us another proper moon?

That's no moon...
Actually we've got several NEOs in irregular orbit around the earth already.

fenrizz:

Quaxar:
Inb4 "yo dawg"

I think if NASA went through with it this will be exiting to every hobby astronomer. Although 7m is pretty small. How about redistributing 10% of the US military budget to NASA so we can catch us another proper moon?

10%?
How about every nation on earth gives 1% of their GDP each year to a new international space agency.
Imagine what we could achieve!

Back when we were building wooden frigates, the motto was: Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute
Now it's: Billions for "defense"...

We had better do it while Bruce Willis is still alive then...

At that point, couldn't you just bring a small asteroid down to Earth itself. You know we had a space shuttle that had a cargo bay on it.

One thing I love about NASA is they never try to make their technology sound more impressive than it is. "Yep, we're planning on catching an asteroid in a big bag." Though I'm curious what they're planning on doing once they get the asteroid to the moon. If I remember my high school science well enough, I thought it took more than placing an object in another object's gravitational field to achieve orbit.

I wasn't expecting they'd use it for research, still, I'm wondering what they'll find when they do.

DVS BSTrD:
Aught to be feasible, I mean seven meters is 3 and a half womp rats. Our computers could target that right?

Quaxar:
Inb4 "yo dawg"

I think if NASA went through with it this will be exiting to every hobby astronomer. Although 7m is pretty small. How about redistributing 10% of the US military budget to NASA so we can catch us another proper moon?

That's no moon...
Actually we've got several NEOs in irregular orbit around the earth already.

True, but with years and decades between every near earth time they are not exactly useful. Also, with "proper moon" I meant something like Io or Oberon, not just a large rock.
Or even better... Mimas. The Death Star moon. Those other planets won't dare insult earth again!
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Ickabod:
At that point, couldn't you just bring a small asteroid down to Earth itself. You know we had a space shuttle that had a cargo bay on it.

Kind of defeating the purpose of studying them in orbit and experimenting with landing on them, doesn't it?

Very interesting proposal, but would any asteroid put into lunar orbit not eventually (and rather quickly I imagine) get dragged into earth orbit due to the planet's much larger gravitational pull?

Xan Krieger:
Still though, on the extremely off chance it does hit a major population center it could cause quite a few deaths. Extremely extremely off chance it could land on me but that'd be a kickass way to go.

Asteroids that size either burn up or explode in the atmosphere, or reach the ground as melon-sized chunks that do little more than wreck cars.

According to Wikipedia:

Asteroids with diameters of 5 to 10 m (16 to 33 ft) enter the Earth's atmosphere approximately once per year, with as much energy as Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, approximately 15 kilotonnes of TNT. These ordinarily explode in the upper atmosphere, and most or all of the solids are vaporized.[4]

Scientists aren't generally as For Science!!! as movies would have you think. It is likely that part of the reason they chose a 7 m asteroid is to keep it from being a threat to terrestrial populations.

Xan Krieger:
Still though, on the extremely off chance it does hit a major population center it could cause quite a few deaths. Extremely extremely off chance it could land on me but that'd be a kickass way to go.

You didn't read the article did you?

This kind of stuff happens in Gundam a lot, or at least it does in the lore (bringing asteroids into Earth's orbits to mine for resources and what not) which explains where the fascist madmen get all of the asteroids to drop onto the Earth from.

Quaxar:

True, but with years and decades between every near earth time they are not exactly useful. Also, with "proper moon" I meant something like Io or Oberon, not just a large rock.
Or even better... Mimas. The Death Star moon. Those other planets won't dare insult earth again!
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Without the line in the middle that asteroid totally looks like something else to me...

Humans: owner of the universe's largest pet rock

If that thing makes a mess on the carpet, I'm certainly not cleaning that up.

weirdguy:
Humans: owner of the universe's largest pet rock

If that thing makes a mess on the carpet, I'm certainly not cleaning that up.

+5 internets to you good sir, I needed a laugh today.

OT: This is another one of those "big step towards science-fiction" stories, in this case giving scientists a testing ground for automated asteroid mining probes. Asteroids can sometimes have large concentrations of minerals or even frozen gasses that are rare on Earth, if this technology can be perfected then we could potentially shore up a lot of deficiencies in the manufacturing and laboratory experimentation sectors. I'm really excited to see where this goes, but my inner skeptic is telling me that this probably won't go anywhere in a big hurry...to hell with it, BUILD MORE SCV's!!!

Gatx:

Quaxar:

True, but with years and decades between every near earth time they are not exactly useful. Also, with "proper moon" I meant something like Io or Oberon, not just a large rock.
Or even better... Mimas. The Death Star moon. Those other planets won't dare insult earth again!
image

Without the line in the middle that asteroid totally looks like something else to me...

Still a good reason to get it, it's not mother earth for nothing!

Ickabod:
At that point, couldn't you just bring a small asteroid down to Earth itself. You know we had a space shuttle that had a cargo bay on it.

That's the good bit though. If you put it into lunar orbit... you can always go out and get it with a shuttle (or more likely something unmanned and less expensive) to test how to bring them back from a lunar orbit. Then we can start mining asteroids and hopefully get rare metals instead of alien viruses.

Lvl 64 Klutz:
One thing I love about NASA is they never try to make their technology sound more impressive than it is. "Yep, we're planning on catching an asteroid in a big bag." Though I'm curious what they're planning on doing once they get the asteroid to the moon. If I remember my high school science well enough, I thought it took more than placing an object in another object's gravitational field to achieve orbit.

Well yeah, they also need to pick up speed and put themselves into a moon orbit, THEN they can let go of the rock. After that they can scrap the bot.

I just wonder how that tiny probe with it's even smaller engine is going to move anything larger than a water bottle!

it is much easier to mine asretoids when they are in sychronized orbit and being near the moon does that. hail mining industries.

One step closer to stealing Io!

Because who wouldnt want a moon that looks like cheese to be accompanied by a moon that looks like pizza.

Am I the only one who's first concern was not impact, but rather the effects of another large objects gravity on earth? that's before I read its 7m long

It is an intriguing concept, and I can see where it could be a desirable goal (Even if nothing else than to have easy access to something we might end up trying to use to deflect something larger.

However, even with all the rigorous peer reviewed calculations and advanced math NASA is known for, what concerns me, is the way we approach scientific ideas like this, yet fail to calculate for unexpected variables.

Given the moon and earth have a symbiotic gravitational relationship does it really make a lot of sense to tinker with highly functional gravitational equilibrium? What if we do something like this and within 2 years start to see ocean life dying out, within 5 the atmospheric regulation becomes destabilized failing to properly cleanse CO2 out of the atmosphere, and by the time we get a grasp on what the problem actually is, there is no way to repair it because even removing the interference will not perfectly restore the original equilibrium to jump start those ecological systems back into functioning.

Not saying that is scientifically feasible, Its just the first example of not paying attention to come to mind when reading this. Just saying science does have a long and storied history of leaping before you look.

For all the great things NASA and the scientific community have given the world thru the ages, I learned to never completely trust a guy who would willingly prioritize their hair, zits and dick over threats that will eat you alive both inside and out.

Edit:

RicoADF:
Am I the only one who's first concern was not impact, but rather the effects of another large objects gravity on earth? that's before I read its 7m long

Nope, but ya ninja'd me to the punch. While 7 meters is not huge, we are potentially tinkering with systems that we do not fully understand. We really cannot effectively predict every nuanced effect a little rock might have. Simple butterfly effect in action.

You do realize how utterly insignificant a 7m wide asteroids mass is compared to that of earth and the moon? Thats like being afraid the earth will spiral out of control if too many people sneeze in the same direction at once.

 

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