Feature

NASA bets on asteroid mission as best path to Mars

Some scientists question whether redirect plan would get humans any closer to Red Planet

By
2:52pm, August 8, 2014
illustration of astronaut sampling an asteroid

ROCKY ROAD TO MARS  NASA has billed its Asteroid Redirect Mission as a stepping stone to Mars. In one mission concept, illustrated here, an astronaut collects a sample from a bagged asteroid orbiting the moon.

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Somewhere above the clouds, way up into the deep space of the inner solar system, there’s an asteroid tumbling near Earth with NASA’s name on it.

Within the next decade or so, the space agency wants to snag the space rock and haul it to the moon. And they’ve hatched two fantastical plans to do it. One would snare an asteroid with a gigantic inflatable bag; the other might send a sticky-fingered robot out to grab a golf cart–sized boulder off an even bigger rock.

Both would help humans prepare for an eventual trip to Mars. At least that’s what NASA says.

“We would have access to a completely new alien body that no one had ever touched or seen,” says planetary scientist and former NASA astronaut Tom Jones, who studied the feasibility of the mission. What’s more, he says, astronauts might be able to mine the rock for resources, instead of relying only on supplies hauled up from Earth for voyages into deep space.

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