Video Caption: The U.S. has explored space with telescopes, robotic rovers and its shuttle. Now facing budget cuts and reduced resources, NASA has had to reassess its ambitions while heeding the call for new discovery. Judy Woodruff talks to Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post about a new program that aims to capture a small asteroid.
Editor’s Note: Achenbach wrote a story a couple of days ago about the asteroid mission, which is being viewed skeptically by most of the scientists who study these bodies:
But the mission is viewed skeptically by many in the space community. At a July gathering of engineers and scientists at the National Academy of Sciences, veteran engineer Gentry Lee expressed doubt that the complicated elements of the mission could come together by 2021, and said the many uncertainties would boost the costs.
“I’m trying very, very hard to look at the positive side of this, or what I would call the possible positive side,” he said.
“It’s basically wishful thinking in a lot of ways – that there’s a suitable target, that you can find it in time, that you can actually catch it if you go there and bring it back,” said Al Harris, a retired NASA planetary scientist who specializes in asteroids.
“Of course there’s always luck. But how much money do you want to spend on a chance discovery that might have a very low probability?” said Mark Sykes, a planetary scientist who chairs a NASA advisory group on asteroids.
Achenbach doesn’t mention the recently published paper that identified a dozen “easily retrievable” asteroids that could be captured current technology. The paper said the number could grow as researchers conduct more thorough searches for these bodies.
The author’s focus was predominantly on science and NASA’s human mission to a captured asteroid. He didn’t mention how NASA could work with private companies like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources in identifying asteroids and developing technologies to redirect and mine them. Or how the resources extracted could support space exploration and settlement.