NASA wants to play rodeo in the stars. An ongoing project to redirect asteroids to a new orbit for study has yielded some candidates, mostly smaller asteroids with loose density. By capturing the asteroids with a manned spacecraft, then redirecting them to the moon’s orbit, NASA hopes to learn more about asteroids, and possibly protect our Earth from collision.
This project, which is actually called the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), aims to capture an asteroid, then send it to the moon orbit. From there, NASA wants to put actual humans on the asteroid for study. If the agency can’t find a smaller asteroid to redirect, they’re planning to nick a portion of a larger asteroid for study.
The Spitzer telescope has identified at least one candidate for capture. Dubbed 2011 MD, the asteroid is about 20 meters in diameter, and has a lower density than solid rock, suggesting it’s a series of smaller rocks held together by force or gravity.
The project is set to take place in 2020, with NASA putting a spacecraft in orbit in 2019. Asteroids passing through our solar system as early as 2016 will give us a better look at which may be right for the program. Aside from saving Earth from asteroids, NASA hopes their research will send us deeper into space. “With these system concept studies, we are taking the next steps to develop capabilities needed to send humans deeper into space than ever before, and ultimately to Mars, while testing new techniques to protect Earth from asteroids” said NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Director William Gerstenmaier.