Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Space.com has an article on this subject here today, where it seems like the idea of sending a manned mission to an asteroid is beginning to gain support, partially because it's just so easy to do compared to landing on the surface of a body with a significant amount of gravity. As noted in another post, asteroids 1991 VG and 1990 AO10 could be good candidates for a mission of this type, but the great thing about asteroids is that there are so many to discover that it's very possible we'll find a perfect candidate quite soon, especially with the launch of NASA's WISE telescope next month with a mission that will only require seven months to complete. At best, that mission could discover not only a number of asteroids that would make good locations for a manned mission, but even one or more brown dwarfs closer to our solar system than even Proxima Centauri.
A manned mission to an asteroid is often thought of as being a kind of bridge between the Moon and Mars, but it really isn't like either of those two. The only way in which it can be thought of as a bridge mission is in journey time, as the Moon is only 3 days while Mars is six to seven months, and a mission to an asteroid would take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Everything else though is entirely different. No landing gear, no plans for permanent colonization, no need for a separate return rocket, no plans for a second or third visit. So what it would be is a nice demonstration that there's more out there besides the Moon and Mars, and a mission that could be done with very little innovation necessary.
Of course, a mission of this type is also completely different in being the only one directly related to protecting ourselves from asteroidal collisions.