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National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is pondering on a plan that will allow a robotic spacecraft drag a near-Earth asteroid into the moon's orbit. The Keck Institute for Space Studies in California reports that the asteroid-moon mission worth $2.6 billion could begin on 2025.
NASA officials confirm that the space agency is already checking on the Keck plan where it could help in the development of man's deep space explorations. "Experience gained via human expeditions to the small returned NEA would transfer directly to follow-on international expeditions beyond the Earth-moon system: to other near-Earth asteroids, the Mars moons Phobos and Deimos, Mars and potentially someday to the main asteroid belt," the Keck mission concept team noted in a feasibility study of the plan in 2012.
In the Keck asteroid-moon plan, an unmanned probe would grab a 25-foot-wide 7 near-Earth asteroid then drag it to the moon's orbit for future study and exploration. For the plan developers, the mission serves a way for mankind to get a grip beyond the low-Earth orbit. It will also allow humans develop techniques and even gain skills that are required in manned space missions especially with much farther destinations.
"Extraction of propellants, bulk shielding and life support fluids from this first captured asteroid could jump-start an entire space-based industry. Our space capabilities would finally have caught up with the speculative attractions of using space resources in situ," the Keck mission team wrote.
Observations with the captured asteroid would also give insights on the economic value of the space rock resources and identify the best methods to repel the threatening asteroids away from planet Earth.
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"Basically this was a first study. It was really to take what was an idea and consider whether or not it had enough validity to pursue it further, and I think we did that," Dr. Louis Friedman, co-founder of The Planetary Society and a co-author of the study, told The Huffington Post.
Dr. Friedman together with study co-author John Brophy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory also emphasized that locating the right asteroid would be crucial. "The observation campaign to identify and adequately characterize attractive target asteroids for retrieval was one of the key challenges," Brophy stated.
However, no decision has been made yet since the review of the mission is still on its early stages. "There are many options and many routes being discussed on our way to the Red Planet. NASA and the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are giving the study further review to determine its feasibility," Bob Jacobs, the deputy associate administrator for the Office of Communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., stated in an email to SPACE.com.
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