Asteroid Mission Outlined in NASA Concept Video; Agency Plans To Capture And Study Space Rock

By Josh Lieberman on August 23, 2013 5:22 PM EDT

asteroid capture
NASA released a concept video showing how it plans to capture and study an asteroid. (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

NASA released dramatic photos and videos yesterday of the space agency's ambitious plan to lasso an asteroid and drag it towards Earth. As ambitious as any Hollywood plot, the Asteroid Retrieval Mission would then see astronauts land on an asteroid and study it.

The first step in the asteroid capture mission involves deploying an asteroid capture vehicle to approach a suitable asteroid. After the estimated three-month process of tossing a "capture bag" around the asteroid, the asteroid would be tugged over the course of two to six years to an area of stable orbit, where the second part of the mission can begin.

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That second part of the mission is where NASA's newly released photos and videos begin. At this stage, astronauts would hop aboard the Orion spacecraft and heard for the captured asteroid. The Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) is currently being developed by NASA for the purposes of taking astronauts to the Moon, Mars and asteroids. A trip from Earth to a captured asteroid aboard the Orion would take nine days.

Upon reaching the asteroid, the Orion would dock to the robotic capture vehicle attached to the asteroid. Two crew members from the Orion would spacewalk to the asteroid while moving along a mechanical arm, called a translation boom. After collecting samples of asteroid, the astronauts would re-board the Orion and head home, while the captured asteroid is redirected to an area of stable orbit about 44,000 miles above the moon.

If all of that sounds easy, it looks exceedingly easy in the new NASA video below, what with its booming score and slick animation. But the asteroid plan may not exactly go off as easily as that, and the ambition and price tag of the mission--estimated at $2 billion--have been a source of controversy in Congress. This summer, the House's Science, Space and Technology committee voted 22 to 17 to bar NASA from going ahead with its asteroid mission. But a separate bill in Senate, which is currently in recess, would authorize an $18 billion budget for NASA and would allow the agency to allocate funds how they wish.

NASA will review plans and possibilities for its asteroid mission during a workshop at the Lunar Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, from September 30 through October 2. During that time, NASA will look at the ideas proposed by both researchers and the public at large as part of this summer's "Grand Challenge."

Unfortunately, there are no updates at this time regarding Bong Wie's plan to blow up asteroids.

READ MORE:

Moon Explosion: How Massive Was The Meteorite That Recently Collided With The Lunar Surface? [VIDEO]

NASA's Swift Satellite Produces Amazing Maps of Nearest Galaxies [PHOTO]

Mars Voyage Radiation: How Large Is Threat To Astronauts?

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