Is NASA seriously considering a human mission to an asteroid? That would be cool.
“A human mission to a near Earth asteroid would be scientifically worthwhile,” said Chris McKay, deputy scientist in the Constellation science office at the NASA Johnson Space Center. “It could be part of an overall program of understanding these objects. Also, it would be useful, instrumentally, in terms of understanding the threat they pose to the Earth.”
“There’s a lot of public resonance with this notion that NASA ought to be doing something about killer asteroids…to be able to send serious equipment to an asteroid,” McKay observed. “The public wants us to have mastered the problem of dealing with asteroids. So being able to have astronauts go out there and sort of poke one with a stick would be scientifically valuable as well as demonstrate human capabilities,” he said.
According to this SPACE.com article, a mission to a near-Earth asteroid might happen before NASA goes to Mars, possibly even before the next lunar landing, to test the new spacecraft systems for a longer 60-90 day mission.
Asteroid Itokawa is pictured on the left here, as imaged recently by a Japanese probe.