THE United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Wednesday announced the first-ever human mission to an asteroid.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told delegates of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space at Vienna, Austria about a new asteroid initiative that the US space agency is developing together with international partners.
“The centerpiece of our asteroid initiative is the first ever-attempt to identify, capture and redirect an asteroid,” Bolden said.
The goal of the asteroid initiative, he said, is to redirect an asteroid to an orbit closer to Earth so humans can travel to it, and to improve the detection, characterization, and mitigation planning for potentially hazardous asteroids.
The US space agency will pursue these two complementary activities simultaneously, he said.
“We have begun work on an asteroid initiative that will engage the expertise of every part of our agency as well as America’s scientific, academic, aerospace, and manufacturing industries in a collaborative effort that will benefit all humankind,” Bolden said.
“Aside from advancing our understanding of the nature of these mysterious objects and how we might protect our planet from them, this initiative will provide valuable experience in future mission planning and operations,” he added.
These missions will include, but not limited to future crewed deep-space missions, including our planned visit to Mars.
Bolden has been the administrator of NASA since 2009. After joining the office in 1980, he travelled to orbit four times aboard a space shuttle between 1986 and 1994, commanding two of the missions. His flights included deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope and the first joint U.S.-Russian shuttle mission, which featured a cosmonaut as a member of his crew.
US President Barack Obama earlier urged the space agency to start work on finding a small asteroid that could be shifted into an orbit near the moon and used by astronauts as a stepping-stone for an eventual mission to Mars.
Obama has allocated $17.7 billion for the US space agency for the 2014 fiscal year which includes human expedition to an asteroid as early as 2021.
Neil A. Alcober