Nothing will make people less dubious about NASA's plan to lasso an asteroid like a plan. That must be what the folks at NASA are thinking, but more power to them, because they do indeed have something that is beginning to resemble a plan.
See, NASA isn't sending astronauts to the moon anytime soon, but it is going to fetch an asteroid of its very own in the 2020s (or at least that's the intention, and it will possibly maybe happen) via the Asteroid Redirect Mission. The 2020s are coming up soon, so of course the agency needs to hurry up and figure out how to handle that proverbial asteroid.
Well, they're on it. Kind of. Sure, it turns out one of the asteroid candidates for lassoing is just a fast-moving collection of rubble and not the big hunk of asteroid envisioned in the mission, according to a release. A few months ago, NASA called for proposals about how to pull this thing off and received about 100 ideas. The agency selected 18, and the various entities behind said proposals are receiving seed money to get the ideas off the ground, so to speak, and to figure out if they work -- $4.9 million for six months of research, to be precise.
NASA agreed to fund four studies on capture methods. None of these methods involves getting a very tall person to swing a very large butterfly net, which is probably for the best. There's an asteroid-capture system that will look at whether it's actually possible or feasible to catch an asteroid or an asteroid chunk with an inflatable system. There's also our personal favorite, the "Kraken Asteroid Boulder Retrieval System." It's our fave because it comes from a Houston company, Jacobs of Houston, yes, but mainly because someday an astronaut might get to holler, "Release the Kraken!"
There are also two proposals for rendezvous sensors and four proposals looking at different ways to adapt commercial spaceflight vehicles for the actual Asteroid Redirect Vehicle, because the current plan is still to rely on commercial companies for transport, as soon as said companies can, you know, actually do that.
As if all that weren't exciting enough, there will also be five approved proposals for partnerships to deliver secondary payloads (non-asteroid-collecting stuff) and three studies examining how to partner up the crew with partnerships to enhance U.S. exploration activities" in space, which sounds like a fancy way of saying these are ideas about how NASA can look at ideas to exploit whatever it finds when it finally actually gets ahold of that elusive asteroid.
The whole thing has the loose and flexible feel of the very beginnings of the idea of a plan. Who knows if there will ever be an actual plan attached to all this, let alone a fancy space rock, but at least there's something happening. And if all goes wrong, Bruce Willis circa Armageddon already showed us how to handle it. So at least there's that.
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