Manned Asteroid Mission For Constellation Program?

NASA is studying a proposal to send people to rendezvous with an asteroid. Constellation hardware may be used to visit an NEO - Near Earth Object.

Could the Orion vehicle under development for coming lunar landing missions be used for other purposes?

“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.

As far as I know, the first story about landing a craft on an asteroid was written by Edward Drax in 1931. In The Travel Tales of Mr. Joseph Jorkens, minor navigation problems result in a landing on Eros:

"I had not seen it as soon as I had seen Mars, on account of its being so near to the line of the Sun... I couldn't make out anything, as most of the orb was in darkness... I got into the darkness at last and switched on my engines, and flew till I came to the very first edge of twilight that gave light enough for me to land... And that was how I came to make a bad landing, with my wheels deep down in a marsh...

A more technical approach to landing on an asteroid was completed by Robert Heinlein. In his 1939 short story Misfit, young men without a trade were given another chance in the Cosmic Construction Corps. One job was to make a livable space habitat on selected asteroids.

He walked over by the lookouts at stereoscopes and radar tanks and peered up at the star-flecked blackness. Three cigarettes later the lookout nearest him called out.
"Light ho!"
"Where away?"
His mate read the exterior dials of the stereoscope. "Plus point two, abaft one point three, slight drift astern." He shifted to radar and added, "Range seven nine oh four three."
"Does that check?"
"Could be, Captain. What is her disk?" came the Navigator's muffled voice from under the hood.
The first lookout hurriedly twisted the knobs of his instrument, but the Captain nudged him aside. "I'll do this, son." He fitted his face to the double eye guards and surveyed a little silvery sphere, a tiny moon. Carefully he brought two illuminated cross-hairs up until they were exactly tangent to the upper and lower limbs of the disk. "Mark!"
The reading was noted and passed to the Navigator, who shortly ducked out from under the hood.
"That's our baby, Captain"
...McCoy forced them to lie down throughout the ensuing two hours. Short shocks of rocket blasts alternated with nauseating weightlessness. Then the blowers stopped and check valves clicked into their seats. The ship dropped free for a few moments -- a final quick blast -- five seconds of falling, and a short, light, grinding bump. A single bugle note came over the announcer, and the blowers took up their hum.

Take a look at these other asteroid-related stories:

  • Proposal To Move An Asteroid
    The B612 Foundation recently testified before a senate subcommittee regarding a "new" proposal to move an asteroid. What science fiction author proposed moving an asteroid over sixty years ago?
  • MADMEN Robot Swarm To Handle Incoming Asteroids?
    SpaceWorks Engineering, Inc. has completed a preliminary study for NASA in planetary defense against asteroid impactors.

Read more about Planning for Human-Asteroid Mission.

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