The asteroid that hit Russia came out of the sky just like we all thought it would -- a fireball meteor, a streak of light that landed with the impact of a bomb. We've seen it in the movies for years, but it seems NASA took the asteroid as a sign to really step up its anti-obliteration-of-the-Earth game and focus on spotting and understanding asteroids.
With this renewed focus come the Asteroid Grand Partnership and the Asteroid Redirect Mission. The former is focused on NASA seeking new partnerships to speed up planetary defense, designed to spot asteroids way before they're zooming across our skies.
The latter, a mission to redirect asteroids, is exactly what it sounds like. If you've seen Deep Impact or Armageddon, the overall principle is the same (stop a large asteroid from destroying most life forms on the planet), though we're willing to bet -- and are devoutly hoping -- the plan would move in earlier than the one from Deep Impact and that it wouldn't involve Bruce Willis.
Basically, this mission is a first of its kind to identify, capture and redirect an asteroid to a safe orbit of Earth's moon for future exploration by astronauts in the 2020s, according to a NASA release.
Yes, in addition to tracking asteroids -- which is probably a good thing -- we will be lassoing one special piece of large floating rock and bringing it closer to the planet. In fact, it will be orbiting Earth's moon.
It's definitely an interesting plan -- after all, this will be the closest our astronauts have gotten to the moon since we stopped doing lunar missions -- though we do wonder if moving a sizable asteroid closer to the planet is necessarily the wisest course of action.
Interestingly, somehow this all ties into the NASA plan to go to Mars in the 2030s, because ARM, as NASA has acronym-ed it, will use newly developed capabilities, including the Orion spacecraft, a space launch system rocket and high-power solar electric propulsion, to complete the mission.
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It all sounds exciting, though we have to wonder how we are going to get astronauts to Mars when we don't even have it in the federal budget to fund further exploration of the moon. It's particularly questionable considering NASA is the organization that has routinely seen itsfunding slashed
in budget battles in recent years.
Either way, NASA has a plan, and sometime in the next decade an asteroid may be orbiting the moon, even if we aren't. Plus there are even more people looking for any near-Earth asteroids, because what happened in Russia is only cool in the movies. (It's a little cool in the real world, too, but way scarier.)