I’m reading more about a proposed human mission to a Near Earth Object, one of the numerous bodies which inhabit the neighborhood of Earth’s orbit. Every so often, one of them hits our planet, and it would seem to be a good idea to send some explorers out to one to see what we might face if we ever find we need to nudge away a disaster from happening.
This article posted today on SPACE.com talks about some of the possibilities, including whether or not the next generation of space flight hardware might be up to the job.
John Stevens, of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said, “It’s not that difficult from an architecture point of view to fly by an asteroid and then come back.” But pulling off a rendezvous and docking with such an object, then rocketing back to Earth, requires more propulsion oomph, he noted, along with the need for larger living quarters for transiting crews, as well as recycling hardware to handle oxygen and water needs.
Also, any roundtrip – Earth-to-NEO-to Earth – is an extended flight, way beyond that required for Moon travel. So that brings up crew psychological-sociological issues. “It’s a concern…but we don’t know how much of a concern,” Stevens advised.
Mission proposal video here, but I don’t like the big Earth & Moon combination hanging in the sky behind intrepid astronauts. A mission like this would leave the Earth far behind in the jet-black interplanetary backdrop, maybe barely visible as a disk. But probably another bright point just like Venus. That would be a big psychological concern, I’d wager.
I suspect that budget concerns in post-Bush America will shunt this effort to the far sidelines. Too bad. It’s a far more productive way to spend tax dollars than military adventures for the benefit of oil companies.