T Nation

NASA Asteroid Project


#1

http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/NASA-Asteroid-Project-a-Daunting-Task-126059733.html

I read this article today and let me first just say that I have no conspiracy theorist leanings whatsoever. None. I'm pretty pragmatic and analytical. That said, after reading this article, I just came away with the feeling that the government knows something we don't.

First, this is a massive undertaking costing billions at a time when our economy is shit. Next, there are two references to Congress and Presidential imposed deadlines for completion of certain elements of the project. Parenthetically, we only know where less than 1% of the asteroids greater than 300 feet in diameter are located?! Finally, we know a collision between object from space (asteroid, comet, etc.)and earth is not a possibility, but an absolute certainty.

I just "dunno" but I walked away from this article feeling like it was a "cover story" to go deal with a known (and large enough to have our full attention) asteroid on a collision course with earth.

Anyone else get that vibe? Or is this NASA just farting around spending billions because their bored and we have money to spend?


#2

Maybe in preparation for this?

You're right though, something didn't seem "right" about that article. It strikes me as odd that they've abandoned the shuttle program, canceled another moon landing, and have put Mars on hold to send a couple of guys onto the surface of an asteroid ripping through space at unimaginable speeds?

If there was such an asteroid headed our way, I wonder if an amateur astronomer would be able to detect it. The government would have a hell of a time keeping everyone's mouth shut. Or maybe a deep space telescope picked something up and only the government is privy to it.


#3

It's got to be pretty far away given the parameters of the project completion, launch, etc. Also, just viewing it on a telescope will not give you trajectory. I'm really curious...can't help the feeling there is more to this story.


#4

This mission would be a lot easier if they restarted research on a nuclear power supply to power large ion engines. As far as why go to an asteroid? It's an interesting technical challenge, and since we've already been to the moon, if we're going to embark on a symbolic mission, why not somewhere new that presents new challenges to conquer. The biggest drawback to going anywhere off-Earth is the massive ratio of fuel involved. Depending which asteroid they choose, it will likely take less fuel to go there and return than to go land on the Moon and return, since you don't have to blow a bunch of delta-V landing and escaping from the Moon when finished.

The Shuttle is a great machine, but it's ludicrously expensive to launch it ($2B-ish per launch), and it can't go anywhere besides the ISS. Too much of the NASA budget has gone to just servicing and launching the space trucks, so shutting it down frees up a lot of funds to explore things like this. We've been in a rut for 20 years, I'm glad NASA is thinking big again. Even if the mission fails, the research and knowledge generated will bear fruit.


#5

Eh. This still gives me at least 14 years to live.


#6

You missed the point of the thread.

But continuing your point, what is so damn remarkable about landing on an asteroid? Furthermore, we already know what they are and their constitution. So, what is there to learn? More importantly, what is there to learn compared to the cost of the program? How is this "thinking big"? "Thinking big" is going to Mars quite frankly.


#7

I didn't read the article, but I bet they've already called Bruce Willis.


#8

lmfao.

He's never failed to reach drilling depth on any project...

Or so he claims...

Yet Demi may have a different opinion...


#9

Hey-o!


#10

Well I'm not going to speculate on a global conspiracy. And if there was a big rock headed our way, NASA is probably the last group I'd want heading up the interception for various reasons.

There's plenty to learn, even about the asteroids themselves. We've buzzed satellites by a few of them, and looked at others through telescopes millions of miles away. We can speculate what they are made of, but not all are made alike. Maybe we find that there are enough rare elements in near-Earth asteroids to make mining them economically feasible. Maybe we find water, or large amounts of helium-3. We'll gain more experience at assembling stages in orbit, maybe even doing it remotely with robotics. We can learn how our life-support equipment holds up outside of the Earth's magnetosphere for long periods of time. Psychologically it will be interesting to see how astronauts react to being in a tiny can for months at a time out of the reach of rescue, or when home is just a shiny dot.

It's certainly thinking bigger than we're currently doing, while being a manageable goal. Right now, all we do in manned flight is launch people up to 62 miles to let them experience freefall, and maintain a skeleton crew on the ISS that isn't big enough even do much research.

It's not the next big mission I'd choose, but it's better than what we've been doing.


#11

What's going to stop this getting the kibash in a few years just like Bush's moon landing program?

I also think Mars is the sexier pick, asteroids are cool and all but it ain't no fuckin' planet lol. The public has to be behind it, can't see them getting behind an asteroid rodeo unless it's going to smash us to bits and if thats the case won't the world be in chaos by then because everyone is saying "fuckit, I'm going to be dead in two years" and raise hell so to speak.

Maybe there's something else out there they want to get a better look at and an asteroid hunt is a good cover, food for thought for sure BG.

And don't forget, who is going to volunteer for this mission? Take your pick, both are risky to say the least, man you gotta have a death wish to stick up your hand in class.

Bruce Willis already did the asteroid thing, yawn, he won't pick up unless it's a planet.


#12

When heads are on the chopping block to cut needless bureaucracy, the bureaucracies that exist need to justify their existence as if their lives depend on it.

If NASA can whiz this project through and secure a few billion dollars worth of budgetary allotment, everybody keeps their jobs until there is more money to throw around, at which time, stopping giant asteroids will become unreasonably risky and logistically un-feasible. Then it will be back to the moon stuff, which has previously been deemed the same, but will look a lot more reasonable compared to stopping giant asteroids.

They been doing this rope-a-dope for decades.


#13

Yeah, except both congress and POTUS have put deadlines on this project for completion of various stages. It doesn't have that feel you're describing. Maybe it's just how the article was written.


#14

Ah, I still think it is a stratagem to keep govt. dollars flowing.

"The crew capsule is the farthest along because NASA is using the Orion crew ship it was already designing for the now dead moon mission and repurposing it for deep space. NASA has already spent $5 billion on Orion."

Now how is NASA and the folks who allocate funds to them gonna explain being 5 billion dollars deep into a dead program and useless pieces of space exploration equipment to a congressional hearing on "what the fuck did you do with that last five bill?" ?

Easy. Say everything in that article. It is not a $5 billion debacle, It is a stepping stone into the future of space exploration. Once they get this down, Mars is just a hop skip and a jump away! (and maybe a trillion or so dollars)

The only thing they need at this point is MORE MONEY! They have a lot of stuff that has to be invented for this, and it would be a shame to let all that money and manpower they already spent get mothballed.

Maybe it is just my cynical eyes, but when I read articles like that it seem more like a pitch to the public than an actual threat to life on this planet.


#15

Yea, but see, this MUST become both available and feasible. If it's "logistically unfeasible" than it's guaranteed, absolutely guaranteed, that humans will be exterminated by an asteroid collision, and it could be in the near future.

Apophis is scheduled to make its first pass in 2029, and its second in 2036. There is a tiny, and I mean tiny, keyhole that it could pass through in Earth's gravitational pull that could readjust its orbit just enough so that when it comes by in 2036, it could hit us.

Now, this asteroid is far from a world ender because it ain't big enough, however, it's going to get closer than any asteroid since we've had the space program and measured such things.

I am thinking that maybe finally, finally, someone high enough in the government go the hint that this is a very real threat and is taking it seriously now.

I am probably the biggest proponent of the space program that anyone will find. I truly think it's the most noble thing our government has ever done in creating and running such a program that explores the universe - really, if you have any love for pure knowledge, the more intensely you love the idea of the space program.

Now, maybe they're realizing that not only is it the key to the past, but also the only hope for the future.

All that being said, the language is curious in the article but that could be just the reporter being a doucher and trying to make it interesting.


#16

And one other thing- recently the Russians declared that they would be trying to come up with a mission to send to Apophis just in case something happened, and I imagine they're working on something right now.

So it could also be like a Space Race II - "Defender of the Earth" kind of sequel.


#17

The second link down in the thread on Apophis links the Don Quijote project which is considering Apophis a potential target. This would see them follow the asteroid with a smaller satellite while slamming a larger one into the asteroid and then measuring the effects with the first one. Awesome stuff.

I think this is following in the footsteps of the latest trend to understand asteroids a bit better than we really do. In 2007, the probe 'Dawn' was sent to the asteroid Vesta, and as far as I'm aware reached it just a few weeks ago. In that case there's potentially a host of information on early planet formation so every asteroid has a unique and informative story to tell.

To address BG's thoughts on the article though; it's no secret that our planet is in threat of danger from the likes of asteroids like Apophis however the big question really is - how much danger? Even now they still can't completely predict the likelihood of an impact as there are other factors which cannot be measured without more information about the asteroids themselves, which unfortunately means allowing the asteroid to get closer to us so we can observe it better.

However even a small possibility is cause for concern when there's a chance of averting millions of deaths. I think, given the lack of pressing importance of other options and concern for the safety of our species, they're probably erring on the side of caution. Preventing NEO devastation will go a long way to protecting us as a species and I personally would far prefer time being spent on that than examining Mars in greater detail. For the moment of course!


#18

If there were an asteroid coming then the US could likely get money from other countries to help pay for this project.


#19

To find ways to stop them from colliding with Earth.


#20

Planetary defence is far more important than going to Mars or another Moon landing program.